(This piece was originally published on May 16, 2017 in the Indianapolis Star.)

Standing in front of a former Martindale-Brightwood plating plant cleared of hazardous materials, environmental activists Tuesday ticked off the impacts that President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency budget could have across Indiana.

Less enforcement of laws that aim to reduce air and water pollution. Less money to update sewage and drinking water systems. And less money for emergency clean-up projects like the one that removed hazardous chemicals from the former Williamson Polishing and Plating site.

“One of the key points is that the program that cleaned this up is slated for the 17 percent budget cuts,” said Dr. Indra Frank, director of environmental health and water policy for the Hoosier Environmental Council. “Sites like this are at risk for no clean-up or slower clean-up.”

President Trump has proposed cutting the EPA’s overall budget by 31 percent and reducing the agency’s staff by 20 percent. He has said that this move would help to promote job growth and that the states should assume the regulatory power that the agency currently holds.

The reductions would have a ripple effect on government environmental efforts as they also include a dramatic decrease in funding for the individual states’ environmental agencies, such as the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, which receives 15 percent of its funding from Washington.

Those agencies already rely heavily on the federal government in helping with situations such as the one at the Williamson site at 2080 Andrew J. Brown Ave. IDEM does not have the resources to do clean-ups at sites such as this one, which had a range of hazardous materials, including sodium cyanide, sodium hydroxide, silver, zinc, other metals and numerous acids.

It took the EPA about four months and $1.8 million to clean up the site. Factor in the cost of labor and the estimates come close to $3.2 million, Frank said.

“We know this type of industry pollution would not be tolerated in wealthier neighborhoods,” said Elizabeth Gore, president of the Martindale Brightwood Environmental Justice Collaborative and an Indianapolis Public Schools board member.

The area is still suffering the consequences of an explosion more than 45 years ago at a lead smelter. About 8 percent of children in the neighborhood test positive for elevated lead levels, about eight times that of the state’s average, Frank said.

The EPA’s reach extends into many other areas of people’s lives, speakers said at the event organized by the Hoosier Environmental Council and Sierra Club, among other groups.

EPA programs that could disappear in the new budget include a program to retrofit diesel-powered school buses with lower emission alternatives, lead-risk reduction programs, and clean-up programs such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. In 2016, that program funded 84 projects in Indiana for a total of $125 million.

“Sometimes it seems like all we hear is that the EPA is bad for business,” said Janet McCabe, who has held high-level posts for IDEM and the EPA during the Obama administration. “People need to understand that EPA programs make a real and positive difference in Indiana communities… None of us wants the air to be dirtier, the water to be more dangerous to drink or abandoned sites like this one abandoned forever.”

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