November 16, 2016
Trump threat to abolish EPA could affect Indian River Lagoon
Candidate Donald Trump made statements, including a threat to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency, that could be detrimental to the Indian River Lagoon.
Treasure Coast environmentalists are waiting to see if President Donald Trump will follow through.
Trump told "Fox News Sunday" in October 2015 the EPA should be abolished because "every week they come out with new regulations."
The Indian River Lagoon Council, established last year to oversee lagoon research and restoration projects as the local participant in the National Estuary Program, received $625,000 from the EPA for the current fiscal year.
"It's a little too early to see where things are headed," said lagoon council Executive Director Duane E. De Freese. "So far, all we've heard is campaign rhetoric. We'll have to watch and see what the new vision for the EPA will be. But I can't imagine a nation without clean water and clean air regulations at some level."
De Freese noted the estuary program doesn't issue regulations and has "gotten strong bipartisan support over the years."
The council also receives money from the South Florida and St. Johns River water management districts, the state Department of Environmental Protection, the sale of Indian River Lagoon state license plates, four of the counties along the lagoon (Martin, St. Lucie, Brevard and Volusia) and the Indian River County Lagoon Coalition of Fellsmere, Sebastian and Vero Beach.
If worse comes to worse, the lagoon council could survive without federal funding, De Freese said.
"No question about it," he said. "There's strong local and statewide support for clean water. The local communities understand that you can't have a thriving economy with dirty water. First of all, it's a human health threat. Plus, clean water attracts people; dirty water repels them. In Florida, we can't afford to squander the value of clean water."
CUT, NOT KILLED
"The EPA isn't going to be abolished," said Nathaniel P. "Nat" Reed of Jupiter Island, a longtime Treasure Coast environmentalist and former assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. "But its efforts to combat climate change could be subject to intense review."
In a Nov. 6, 2012, Twitter post, Trump wrote, "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive." Trump has named Myron Bell, an outspoken climate change denier, to lead the transition team for the EPA.
Trump could try to "cut the hell out of the EPA's budget," Reed said, "but he'll need Congress to go along. Even though both chambers are now held by Republicans, the number of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate is really close. I don't think any radical change in the agencies is going to happen."
However, work toward combating climate change "is going to have to wait until a different group comes into office," Reed said.
Agencies involved with environmental restoration need to emphasize how their projects benefit the country's infrastructure, Reed said.
For example: Projects to increase the flow of water to the Everglades and reduce the flow of polluted water to the St. Lucie River will help replenish the aquifers South Florida depends on for drinking water.
"The president-elect is well aware of the need for freshwater for a growing Florida," Reed said, "and the only way to do that is to reconnect Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades. So I'm confident those projects will move ahead."
At the core of that effort is the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, a suite of about 60 projects designed to restore and protect water bodies throughout South Florida over several decades at a cost of more than $10 billion.
A CERP project of particular interest to the Treasure Coast section of the lagoon is the C-44 Canal Reservoir and Stormwater Treatment Area being built to capture stormwater runoff in western Martin County, reducing the amount and improving the quality of the water flowing to the St. Lucie River Estuary.
The project has been "fully authorized," said Jennifer S. "Jenn" Miller, corps spokeswoman, but money has to be allocated by Congress each fiscal year.
The corps currently is building the project's reservoir with money allocated for fiscal year 2016. Another $59.5 million authorized for fiscal year 2017, which began Oct. 1, has not been allocated.
Four more years of allocations will be needed before work on the project is finished and two years of testing are conducted.
"Right now we're still planning, designing and constructing projects," Miller said. "I can't speculate as to what will happen in the future."
FIND BUSINESS ANGLE
The Smithsonian Marine Station in Fort Pierce has been receiving between $80,000 to $90,000 a year for the last 10 years from the Army Corps of Engineers to monitor aquatic life in the St. Lucie River as part of CERP
"We don't get a lot of federal money," said station director and lead scientist Valerie Paul.
However, the station's mother ship, Washington-based Smithsonian Institution, relies heavily on federal appropriations: 60 percent of the institution's nearly $1.3 billion in revenue in fiscal year 2015, the last year for which an annual report is available.
It's too early to say what federal appropriations under the Trump administration will be "until we start seeing some specific policies," Paul said, adding the president-elect has "said he supports research and development."
Environmentally friendly projects will have a better chance of "getting a green light" if they're pitched as job-creating public works programs, Reed said.
In fact, when Trump was asked who would protect the environment if the EPA was abolished, he replied, "We'll be fine with the environment. We can leave a little bit, but you can't destroy businesses."
All environmental groups seeking federal funding are going to have to do a better job showing their projects' return on investment, De Freese said.
"Clean water is not just an environmental issue," he said. "In Florida, it's an economic imperative."