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'We Knew It Was Going to Be Bad, But Not This Bad'

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'We Knew It Was Going to Be Bad, But Not This Bad'

By Heather Moyer

Judith Enck has some real worries about the future of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during the Trump administration, but she also has faith in the agency's career staff.


As the former regional administrator of EPA Region 2 (from 2009 to January 2017), Enck said Trump's proposed massive budget cuts to EPA—projected to be anywhere from 31 to 43 percent cuts—are alarming for an agency charged with holding polluters accountable.

"We knew it was going to be bad, but not this bad," said Enck, who was the longest serving Region 2 administrator in history. "There are million of Americans appalled by Trump's environmental agenda."

And for good reason: Trump's proposed EPA budget eliminates funding used to protect America's most iconic bodies of water, like the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound. It would slash support for Superfund sites and hinder EPA's ability to monitor air quality and check for signs of deadly and toxic pollution like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide.

Enck has hope, though. "There are some in EPA who can try to minimize damage."

Her faith in EPA career staff comes from her seven years working so closely with them. She said many have been at the agency for decades and know their jobs well. "In my farewell speech I encouraged the staff to be the first line of defense in reminding any new staff at EPA who do not want to enforce the law or turn away from important pollution problems," she said. "We really need them to stand up to this assault on environmental protections."

She also believes the EPA's role is to help the U.S. be an international leader on climate change action. "I think that's in jeopardy, though, unfortunately."

Trump's budget will hurt Americans in a number of ways. It would strip funding that enables the U.S. to meet its commitment to the Green Climate Fund, hampering our ability to continue to lead the world in climate action. It also slashes innovative clean energy research efforts (ARPA-E), eliminates funding for after-school and summer programs for at risk and underserved youth run by park and recreation agencies (21st Century Community Learning Centers program) and even puts the EPA programs that respond to crisis like Flint at risk.

But Enck is not discouraged. Her spirit is strong for taking action and encouraging so many others to take action as well.

"I want to be a public voice for the importance of the agency," she said. "I want to urge Americans to flex their civic muscle and communicate with their members of Congress about these draconian cuts to the EPA budget."

Enck sees three major points in a movement to protect the EPA and its mission:

1. Educating the public.

2. Getting members of Congress to act.

3. Litigation.

"We need all three of those to hold back the worst," Enck said. She encourages the public to have their members of Congress on speed dial and to call them regularly, no matter how bad the outlook seems for environmental protection.

"I'm the opposite of someone who says, 'pace yourself,'" she laughed. Then she got serious. "We can never lose our sense of outrage. That's what will prompt us to take action. We need to organize opposition early and aggressively and in a sophisticated way."

You can help defend the EPA against Trump's drastic budget cuts—take action.

Project goal: To create an environmentally friendly and sustainable alternative to leather, in this case using fungi.

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