Sen. Schumer joins fight against Trump EPA cuts

EPA Responds to Gowanus Canal Funding Crisis

April 6, 2017 By Scott Enman Brooklyn Daily Eagle
U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is joining U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) in a mounting effort to stymie President Donald Trump’s proposed $2.6 billion or 31 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget. Eagle file photo by Rob Abruzzese
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U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is joining U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) in a mounting effort to stymie President Donald Trump’s proposed $2.6 billion or 31 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget.

The Trump administration cut, which was announced on March 16, would eliminate 3,200 EPA employees, or 19 percent of the agency’s workforce.

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Funding for the Superfund program would drop by $330 million to $762 million.

The cut could compromise the Gowanus Canal cleanup process, which is already running low on funds.

“Cuts to the [EPA’s] Superfund budget could be detrimental to the cleanup efforts currently underway at the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn,” said Schumer, a Brooklynite and the Senate minority leader.

“President Trump’s proposal would take an axe to federal funds we need to keep our water clean to drink, our beaches safe to swim in and our air safe to breathe, and that’s why I will do everything in my power to beat back this radical effort to slash the EPA’s budget.”

The 100-foot-wide, 1.8-mile noxious canal — referred to by some as arguably the dirtiest waterway in America — was declared a Superfund site in 2010.

Superfund was created by Congress in 1980. It gives the EPA the resources and ability to investigate and clean up polluted sites.

“I intend to work with the Gowanus CAG (Community Advisory Group) and the regional EPA to secure resources they need for the remediation of the canal to go forward,” Velázquez told the Brooklyn Eagle last week. “However, unfortunately, problems like these will only become more common throughout the nation if Trump continues his assault on our environment.

“Whether it is a hiring freeze, proposals to slash the agency’s budget by 30 percent or [last week’s] order on climate change, this administration seems dead set on putting polluters before the public health. We must resist these ill-conceived, immoral policies at every turn.”

Velázquez represents New York’s 7th Congressional District, which encompasses the Gowanus Canal and Newtown Creek, both of which are Superfund sites.

While many Brooklynites know of the Gowanus Canal, fewer are aware of Brooklyn’s almost equally toxic body of water: Newtown Creek.

The 3.5-mile estuary runs through a part of the border between Brooklyn and Queens and along the edges of Greenpoint and East Williamsburg.

Velázquez recently introduced legislation that would undo Trump’s January presidential memorandum that froze staffing levels at all federal agencies, including the EPA. The bill, H.R. 1716, would ensure that the EPA has adequate staffing.


Canal Cleanup Saved — For Now

Gowanus Canal Project Manager Christos Tsiamis, a 25-plus-year veteran of the EPA, alerted Gowanus residents at a March 28 CAG meeting that the Gowanus Canal cleanup fund was nearly depleted.

“We have enough money to go through perhaps April, but that’s about it,” he said. “There is a need for money and without that money, nothing can be done. We have made a request for additional funds to continue oversight and the silence has been deafening.”

Tsiamis told attendees that he requested $400,000-$500,000 from EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C. and that that money would provide enough funding for six to eight months.

Following the meeting, EPA spokeswoman Mary Mears alleviated concerns after she told the Eagle that her organization was able to secure funding.

“The process to ensure funding to keep the work going at the Gowanus site was already underway within the region, but it had not been finally settled as of the evening of last week’s Gowanus CAG meeting,” said Mears. “The region has now finalized a path forward using money that the region already has, so we have addressed the issue.

“The work on the Gowanus is expected to continue using funding that the EPA already has, as well as relying on the work being conducted by those parties responsible for [polluting] at the site.”

Mears said that the EPA currently has several administrative orders in place that will ensure the completion of design work and a dredging and capping pilot for the waterway.

Work on those projects is expected to begin later this year on the pilot in the Fourth Street Turning Basin.

The organization’s estimated target for completion of the dredging work is 2022. Work on the Combined Sewer Overflows will start after that.  

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