Trump’s proposed EPA budget cuts puts Maine’s coast, public health, and economy at risk

By Ramona du Houx

President Trump’s proposed budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would have dramatic negative impacts on coastal tourism, the health of Maine residents, sea-level rise, air pollution, and Maine’s tourism economy.

“President Trump's EPA budget could spoil Maine coastal towns, beaches, water, and air. The Trump Administration and its allies in Congress are endangering our children and communities by pushing to gut environmental protections that are critical to Maine people and our economy,” said Emmie Theberge, Federal Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) at a news conference in Scarborough Beach State Park.

 The White House budget proposal singles out the EPA for the deepest cuts of any federal agency, causing widespread concerns in Maine about the potential impacts of these cuts if they are enacted. The Trump Administration is pushing a budget proposal that would slash EPA programs that reduce pollution in Maine, save the lives of Maine people, and strengthen our communities and economy.

“Sea-level rise could cause widespread economic impacts and costly property damage in Maine communities up and down the coast. Maine can’t afford to have EPA turn its back on climate science and the resources needed to help states prepare. These cuts mean more asthma attacks for our kids, more health problems for Maine’s elderly, and more ‘Code Red’ bad air days when vulnerable people must stay indoors,” said Theberge.

EPA programs that help protect Maine people from dangerous air pollution are slated for deep cuts. Maine already has one of the highest asthma rates in the country, and more air pollution would mean more emergency room visits, more hospitalizations, and more premature deaths. According to the Maine Center for Disease Control, more than 8,000 emergency department visits and 1,000 hospitalizations occur in Maine each year due to asthma.

“I came here today to urge Senators Collins and King to keep Maine’s air clean for thousands of kids like me who suffer from asthma, and for everyone else, too,” says Hunter Lachance, a high school student from Kennebunkport. “Asthma is no fun. It is scary when I can’t breathe and I need to miss school and hang out indoors on dangerous air days.”

In 2008, the estimated direct cost of asthma in Maine was $264 million. In its 2017 State of the Air report, the American Lung Association gave Cumberland County a grade D rating and York County received a grade F—each county having numerous unhealthy air days.

Proposed deep cuts in the Trump budget in EPA air pollution programs would slow Maine’s ability to reduce air pollution.

“On those days when Maine's air is polluted, I regularly see patients with respiratory problems," says Dr. Tony Owens, an emergency room physician at Maine Medical Center. "It is especially heartbreaking when a serious asthma attack sends a child to the ER when they should be outside playing. We need federal protections because carbon emissions from smokestacks and tailpipes in other states contribute to air pollution here in Maine. Thank goodness we have an emergency room for medical treatment; too bad there isn't one for our planet."

In addition to health impacts, the group at the press conference also brought attention to two threats Maine’s beaches and coastal communities face: sea-level rise and increased pollution.

More than 12 million people visit Maine’s beaches each year contributing more than $1.6 billion annually to Maine’s economy, according to a NRCM report.

“Sea-level changes could dramatically affect Maine’s coastal towns in the coming years,” says State Representative Lydia Blume, D-York. Rep. Blume is a member of the Marine Resources Committee and founder of the Maine Legislature’s Coastal Caucus. “Rising sea levels and strong storms have already caused beach erosion and destruction of roads and sea walls in Maine.”

 Sea-level rise and coastal flooding already are posing a threat to roads, infrastructure, homes, and property. Scarborough Beach, like all of Maine’s coastal regions, is threatened by sea-level rise.

Maine’s climate is changing and the impacts could be devastating for our state’s economy, environment, and quality of life.

 The Gulf of Maine is more susceptible to sea-level rise because it is an enclosed basin—so it is rising faster than other places. There is only a one-foot difference between the Gulf’s 10-year and 100-year flood levels, which means that a moderate amount of sea-level rise would create significant problems.

In fact, the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans, threatening Maine’s fishing industry and thousands of Mainers who make a living from the sea. Combined with ocean acidification, Maine’s multi-billion-dollar coldwater fisheries from shrimp to lobsters is at risk.

“Maine’s coast is major driver of our economy, providing jobs in fishing, tourism, boatbuilding, and shipping,” said Rep. Blume. “Our communities and state depend on EPA and other federal resources to ensure that we have access to the best science and information so that local planners and town officials can ensure we’re prepared for sea-level rise along our coast.”

In addition to sea-level rise, Maine’s beaches are threatened by increased pollution. Water quality at Maine’s beaches sometimes fails health standards. For example, in 2012, the State issued 194 beach closings or advisories to alert beachgoers to unhealthy conditions. Beach water pollution can cause a range of illnesses, including skin rashes, infections, stomach flu, and neurological disorders.

The Trump Administration’s proposed cuts to EPA would eliminate funds used by Maine Department of Environmental Protection to issue these advisories and to monitor beach water-quality. Ferry Beach in Scarborough has benefited from Maine’s Healthy Beaches Program, which would be terminated if these proposed cuts pass.

Taking action, a letter signed by more than 70 organizations in Maine was sent to Maine’s Congressional delegation urging them to do “everything possible” to maintain EPA’s budget “at no less than current funding levels. The health of our air, water, people, and economy is at stake.” A petition from more than 1,000 Maine citizens was also sent to the delegation.

“These cuts would be especially bad here in Maine, where our environment, economy, and way of life are so tightly intertwined,” added Theberge. “We are counting on our Congressional delegation to stand up for Maine and fight to defeat these cuts and other rollbacks proposed in Washington that would hurt our health, economy, and way of life.”