A rare thing happened in Washington on the way to passing a federal budget; Congress rejected Trump’s assault on our health and the environment, funding the Environmental Protection Agency to help keep Minnesota’s air and water clean. Families across the state have Rep. Betty McCollum, D-4th Congressional District, to thank for listening to their voices. She deserves a Lake Superior-size amount of credit for championing these safeguards and delivering a budget that protects Minnesotan kids and future generations.
The budget President Donald Trump signed is a far cry from the draconian proposal he offered and the deep cuts that Republicans pushed just to provide more giveaways to industry polluters and special interests. Trump had proposed gutting the EPA budget by 30 percent, defunding it to a level that would make it nearly impossible to carry out its mission to protect human health and keep the environment safe and clean. At the local level, these cuts would have meant the elimination of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and would have posed other threats to Minnesota’s environment and the health of its communities.
An outspoken advocate
Yet Congress pushed back against Trump’s assault on the EPA and managed to pass a spending bill that did not cut funds for environmental protection. One reason for this outcome is McCollum. In her role as ranking member of the House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, McCollum was an outspoken advocate and key negotiator for fully funding the EPA and its programs — including the ones that help keep Minnesotans and our water healthy.
Environmental champions in Congress, like McCollum, did not stand up only against the massive cuts that Trump and Republicans proposed; they also had to hold firm in the face of Republican efforts to attach harmful policies to the budget. Republicans in Congress have a history of adding controversial policies that pose a threat to our clean air and water to must-pass spending bills. These lawmakers know that the public doesn’t support dismantling bedrock public health safeguards and these policies would have no hope of passing on their own merits.
One particularly nasty GOP-led policy would have dismantled the Clean Water Rule, which protects the drinking water sources for 1 in 3 Americans, and more than 980,000 Minnesotans. This “Dirty Water Rider” would have let Trump’s EPA roll back the rule without following any of the required public process steps, like taking public comment or being subject to judicial review. But thanks to strong negotiating, Congress rejected this extreme provision.
This time around, McCollum and her Democratic colleagues drew a line in the sand and, ultimately, Congress adopted a federal budget free of the most damaging policy riders.
It’s not an accident that despite a polluter-friendly Republican Congress and an administration that launches daily assaults on the environment, the biggest legislative deal of the year does not slash our vital safeguards. It’s because we have leaders like McCollum fighting for us every day.
$700 million for infrastructure
Not only does the final budget rebuke Trump’s proposal, it provides $700 million to improve infrastructure to ensure that America’s water is clean and safe. Minnesotans and all Americans will benefit every day from investments in safe water. In fact, Minnesota receives some $40 million from the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds annually, and with increases to both of these funds could see more in the coming year. This vital money is used to protect local rivers, lakes and streams, and ensure we all have safe clean and affordable drinking water.
While this budget is not perfect, it could have been much worse. EPA is still under-resourced when it comes to enforcing clean water rules. And some poison policies that negatively impact wildlife and the outdoors did sneak their way into the final bill. With Trump and congressional Republicans pursuing their extreme agenda, the relatively positive result is not just encouraging, it reminds us about the champions who standing up to protect families, children, and our future generations.
Minnesotans should be thankful to have elected officials like McCollum leading the way to protect the programs that keep us safe. Going forward, we will need more champions like her.
Deanna White is the state director for Clean Water Action and Clean Water Fund of Minnesota.
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