Trump budget cuts would devastate Susquehanna River protection efforts, new report says

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PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center

[Harrisburg, PA] – Proposed cuts to clean water programs at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency  (EPA) by the Trump administration would dramatically halt progress on addressing many of the greatest threats facing the Susquehanna River including agricultural pollution, and mining waste, according to a new report released today by the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center.  

With a deadline for Congress to approve a federal budget rapidly approaching, PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center was joined by the National Wildlife Federation, American Rivers, and Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future to release this new study.

“With the support and guidance of the U.S. EPA, we’ve made real progress to clean up and restore the Susquehanna River, but this budget proposal would put all of that in jeopardy,” said Stephanie Wein, Clean Water and Conservation Advocate for PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center. “For decades, EPA has protected and restored the places we love. Now it’s time for us to protect EPA.”

The report issued today by PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center, entitled Rough Waters Ahead, examined the impacts of the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts to EPA water programs for the Susquehanna River watershed.  More specifically, the report found that Pennsylvania would lose:

  • $1.8 million for water pollution control grants for water pollution control grants, which constitutes a 30% cut;

  • $1.2 million in drinking water protection and enforcement grants, also a 30% cut;

  • $4.7 million to address urban and agricultural runoff pollution if non-point pollution control grants are eliminated.

In addition to these cuts, the report highlighted specific successes of EPA programs that have been shown to deliver real ecological benefits for the Susquehanna River and its tributaries in terms of pollution prevention, law enforcement, restoration, and research to identify emerging threats and discover practical solutions.  

“As an aquatic biologist and life-long fisherman,” added Ed Perry of National Wildlife Federation, “I am deeply grateful for EPA’s commitment to restoring the biological integrity of our Nation’s waters.  Due to their efforts, streams and lakes that were once declared dead now support some of our country’s finest fisheries.”

For example, in York County, agricultural runoff had so polluted Pierceville Run, a headwater of Codorus Creek, that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) declared its water unsafe for drinking water, recreation of aquatic life.  A stream health assessment created with the support of the EPA has helped limit pollution, and portions of the stream have been declared healthy.  

EPA support has also been critical to addressing the impact of acid mine drainage in the watershed. Abandoned coal mines found throughout the Susquehanna headwaters release millions of gallons of highly acidic water full of heavy metals into nearby rivers and streams.  In the 1990s, Miller Run in Huntingdon County was so heavily polluted that portions were virtually lifeless.  Starting in 1998, the Shoup’s Run Watershed Association received an EPA grant to help install systems to treat heavy metal pollution.  A state assessment in 2012 found that Shoup’s Run now meets Pennsylvania standards for fishing and recreation, with these improvements helping to revive its native brook trout fishery – an achievement made possible by EPA grants.

The EPA has played a critical role in enforcement.  When the City of Harrisburg dumped 8.3 million gallons of raw sewage into the Susquehanna River and Paxton Creek between 2007 to 2015, EPA and Pennsylvania’s DEP negotiated with the city officials to reach a settlement that will help renew Harrisburg’s aging sewage infrastructure and stem the flow of pollution. Since the settlement, Capital Region Water has completed wastewater treatment plant upgrades that have reduced nitrogen pollution into these waterways by 90 percent.

“Important EPA services include enforcement to hold polluters accountable, and technical assistance to support local governments, such as Harrisburg, and regional and state agencies,” said Liz Deardorff with American Rivers. “The nation’s budget must bolster, not undermine, the role EPA plays in safeguarding our clean water and public health.”

“Our pollution reduction goals for the Chesapeake Bay watershed cannot be realized without continuing to make critical clean water investments in our communities,” said Ezra Thrush, Campaign Manager at PennFuture. “We are asking our federal legislators and President Trump to support funding for programs that provide critical aid to Pennsylvania, local governments and communities, and farmers throughout our region. A strong Environmental Protection Agency is essential for the restoration and stewardship of the Susquehanna River Basin. We ask our members of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation to bring back full, dedicated funding for our clean water in upcoming appropriations legislation.”

 Today’s report comes as Congress has only a few weeks to approve the federal budget to avoid a government shutdown.  While the budget deal earlier this fall had rejected some of the most extreme EPA budget cuts, the process begins anew in the coming weeks.


PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center is the statewide research and public education organization dedicated to protecting our air, water, and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, and educate the public and decision-makers. For more information, visit www.PennEnvironment/