State Republican budget plans threaten public health and environment

Coalition says budget proposals shift cost from polluters to taxpayers and cut core programs that protect air, water, coast and parks

provided by Natural Resources Defense Council

udget proposals by Republican legislators would gut public health and environmental programs that regulate air and water quality, control toxics and pesticides, and protect the coastline and parks, according to a coalition of health and conservation groups.

    “These proposals are bad for Californians – they'll damage our health, spoil our environment, and punch a bigger hole in the budget by eliminating fees paid by polluters,” said Ann Notthoff, California advocacy director for NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), part of the coalition that represents hundreds of thousands of Californians. “California taxpayers would foot more of the bill and get less protection.”

    A recent survey by the Public Policy Institute of California found that most state residents want “tougher air pollution regulations on manufacturing and commercial activities in their region,” and that despite the state budget crisis “only 38 percent of residents think funding for environmental programs should be cut in order to reduce the deficit and free up funds for other programs.”

    California's air is among the dirtiest in the nation, but one budget proposal would cut nearly half the funds used by the Air Resources Board to monitor emissions from factories and power plants.

    “Turning a blind eye on polluters is a huge mistake,” said Bonnie Holmes-Gen, assistant vice president of the American Lung Association. “We can pretend these problems don't exist, but that will only cost us later in both dollars and public health.”

    The Republican legislators' budget proposals would slash tens of millions of dollars in fees paid by polluters that discharge wastewater and contaminate the air – funds that would otherwise support environmental enforcement and cleanup.

    They would also reduce air pollution permitting fees by $10 to $14.4 million, eliminate approximately $14 million in wastewater discharge fees and more than $10 million in assessments that support pesticide regulation.

    “Shifting costs for environmental health from polluters to taxpayers is clearly bad for the environment, and in the long run it also hurts the economy,” said Bob Epstein, cofounder of Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), a national community of professionals and business people who believe in protecting the environment while building economic prosperity. “Economic vitality depends on sustainable environmental health. It's in the interest of the business community to invest in California's quality of life.”

    A proposal by some legislators would abolish the California Coastal Commission, which defends the coastline from oil drilling and overdevelopment, promotes public access and preserves wetlands.

    “Our environment is already under attack from Washington,” said Rico Mastrodonato, executive director of the California League of Conservation Voters. “We should be bolstering state environmental protections right now, not dismantling the institutions that protect our precious resources.”

    The State Parks Department is also on the chopping block. It could be reduced by up to 60%, possibly forcing the closure of over 150 parks and threatening more than $1.5 billion spent by park visitors in local economies each year.

    “These plans attempt to balance the budget on the back of the environment, and that simply won't work,” said Dan Jacobson, executive director of Environment California. “Conservation programs amount to less than 2% of the state budget, and polluter fees actually generate tens of millions of dollars to support these key programs.”

    Luis Arteaga, executive director of the Latino Issues Forum, said the cuts “would devastate core programs this year, but under the proposed framework, it would be even worse next year. This spells long-term trouble for public health.”

    The coalition of public health and conservation groups represents hundreds of thousands of politically active Californians, according to Bill Magavern, senior legislative representative of Sierra Club California. “We're calling on lawmakers and the governor to solve this state's fiscal crisis without sacrificing public health and the environment,” he said.

    The coalition's members include: American Lung Association of California; California Coastal Protection Network; California League of Conservation Voters; California Solar Industries Association; Coast Action Group; Coalition for Clean Air; Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment; Defenders of Wildlife; Environment California; Environmental Defense; Green Capitol; Heal the Bay; Latino Issues Forum; League for Coastal Protection; Natural Resources Defense Council; Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations; Pesticide Action Network; Physicians for Social Responsibility; Planning and Conservation League; San Diego Baykeeper; Sierra Club California; Surfrider Foundation; The Friends of the Garcia River; The Steve and Michele Kirsch Foundation; The Ocean Conservancy; Union of Concerned Scientists; Vote The Coast; Waterkeepers.