Updates, #SaveTheEPA, Beach Act, Climate Change, Water Quality
February 08 2017

Save the EPA

by Mara Dias

The mission of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to protect human health and the environment.  That means clean air, clean water and clean land for everyone.  The EPA implements and enforces the environmental laws that Congress passes by determining health and performance standards using the best available science, providing assistance to state and local government to help them protect and restore their natural resources and by stimulating innovation and scientific advancements through academic research support.

As a grassroots organization fighting for the protection and enjoyment of our ocean, waves and beaches, the Surfrider Foundation leans heavily on EPA programs and regulations to ensure that the water that flows down to the beach is clean and free from pollution and that beachgoers have the information they need to avoid getting sick at the beach.  EPA regulations and the research the agency supports are also critical as our country and planet face the challenges of climate change, and coastal communities prepare to become more resilient in the face of changing weather patterns, rising sea levels and ocean acidification. Surfrider’s activist network works at the local, state and federal level to ensure that states and local communities across the country have the resources and authority they need to ensure EPA programs are implemented properly to prevent pollution, restore healthy watersheds and manage resilient coasts. 

In recent years, Surfrider has had several federal legislative priorities aimed directly at supporting the EPA’s authority to protect clean water and public health and to help our coastal communities adapt to climate change.   (1) Surfrider joined a large coalition of environmental organizations and businesses to support the Clean Water Rule that was finalized by the EPA in August 2015.  This rule restores Clean Water protections to nearly 20 million acres of wetlands and two million miles of streams. Healthy headwaters also support clean water downstream at the beach, but unfortunately political pressure and industry interests have delayed implementation thus far, and there is currently a national stay placed on implementation while lawsuits made by several states are decided.  

(2) Surfrider has also been a staunch supporter of the BEACH Act since it originally passed back in 2000, and in recent years we have had to fight persistently to convince Congress to continue to fund the EPA BEACH Act Grants program.  This EPA program helps coastal states across the country pay for their beach water quality testing and public health protection programs.  Without this funding, beach goers will have less information about whether it is safe to go into the water, and beach water testing programs would completely shut down in many states. 

(3) Surfrider is also working to influence policy at the national and local levels to advance climate change adaptation measures and curtail ocean acidification.  Surfrider supports the Paris Agreement that brought together over 190 countries to focus on curbing climate change, and we strongly urge the new Administration to not withdraw from this unprecedented agreement.

Given the current political climate in DC and the open antagonism of the new administration towards the EPA, we feel it necessary to step back and not only fight to keep these important safeguards in place and funded, but to also fight to save the entire agency so that it can continue to meet its mission of protecting public health and the environment.

What are the threats?

Staffing cuts & restrictions

The President and his new administration have already started to impair EPA staff’s ability to do their job by restricting communication.  For instance there hasn’t been a single post on the EPA’s blog since the President Trump was sworn in on January 20th.  

A federal hiring freeze has also already been issued that will prevent the agency from filling existing positions as staff leave their posts due to retirement or other reasons.  Even worse, President Trump’s transition team has recommended slashing agency staff by 2/3rds!

Ill-suited & maligned leadership

President Trump has also nominated Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency for his Administration.  As Attorney General of Oklahoma, Pruitt sued the EPA, the very agency he’s set to oversee, 13 times. Many of those lawsuits have attacked critical safeguards for water and the health of people who drink it. He also appears to have very close ties with oil and gas industries and has been handing out free passes to the big polluters for years.  Read more about Surfrider’s concerns with Scott Pruitt’s potential leadership of the EPA here

Rollback of environmental regulations & agency authority

President Trump and the Republican-led Congress have already started repealing rules set by the prior Administration to protect clean water.   Both the Senate and House voted to kill the Stream Protection Rule using their authority under the Congressional Review Act.  This rule limited coal mining operations from polluting streams and drinking water supplies, but will be officially dead in the water once President Trump signs off on Congress’s action.

The EPA has also withdrawn the Mercury Effluent Rule under order from President Trump.  This rule was finalized in December 2016 to prevent mercury contamination of air and water from dental offices, and the Natural Resources Defense Council is suing the EPA for illegally rescinding this rule without public notice or an opportunity for comment.  The White House has ordered agencies to withdraw a broad array of rules issued by the Obama Administration to protect public health and the environment and we expect this trend to continue.  

Even worse, a bill has even been introduced by Representative Matt Gaetz from Florida to abolish the EPA in its entirety.  More here.  

Budget cuts & policy riders

President Trump and Congressional leaders who want to prevent EPA from enforcing environmental regulations will also use the federal appropriation process to meet their goals.  We should expect drastic cuts to the overall agency’s budget as well as funding levels for specific programs such as the BEACH Grants program. 

Attaching policy riders to funding bills has also been a well-used tactic to prevent the implementation of particular rules and regulations that Congressional members disagree with.  The Republican-led Congress has tried to attach riders to previous federal budgets to prevent implementation of the Clean Water Rule, but the promise of a veto by President Obama has prevented final approval of such riders.  The final budget for 2017 has yet to be determined (the federal government is currently operating under a continuing resolution until April 28th, 2017), and President Trump is due to release his budget proposal for FY 2018 any week now.

What is Surfrider’s plan to Save the EPA?

First, we are going to join environmental organizations across the country in urging the Senate to reject President Trump’s nomination of Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA.

We are going to ask Congress to more broadly support sufficient funding and staffing for the agency so that it can continue to meet its mission.  This will include a specific request for continued funding for the BEACH Act and continued climate research funding in both the FY2017 and FY2018 federal budgets. 

We will also fight against any attempts by the Administration or Congress to rollback environmental regulations or to thwart proper enforcement of environmental laws.  In addition, we will oppose any attempts that weaken Federal leadership to advance climate change adaptation measures and the use of science to address climate change threats.  

At the same time, we will be advocating at the state and local levels, to find additional sources of funding and to ensure that environmental protections and restoration programs remain in place in coastal communities across the country. For instance Surfrider is working hard in Florida right now to advocate for state funding for beach water quality monitoring and public notification programs. 

We will be calling on our members, supporters and recreation-based businesses that depend on clean water and healthy beaches to pitch in and help us in this fight to Save the EPA. 

What can you do right now?

  • Make Your Voice Heard. Pick up the phone and call your Congressional Representatives in DC. Let them know that clean water, public health, and action on climate change are important to you. Remind them that its their responsibility to ensure that the EPA is empowered, through adequate funding, staffing and authority, to continue to meet its mission.  Find your member's phone numbers here: Senate and House.
  • Get Involved. Attend a Surfrider chapter meeting. You’ll learn how you can work side by side our Surfrider network of volunteers to ensure clean water and safe, accessible beaches in coastal communities across the country.  We are fighting campaigns at the local, state & federal level to protect our coasts and to ensure safe and healthy beaches for everyone. 
  • Donate. The urgency of the work on the ground has never been more important.  Opening up your wallet and becoming a member, renew or give an additional donation will help fuel our network of volunteer coastal defenders with the resources we need to win at this most critical time. Please join us at: Surfrider.org/support-surfrider.