Amid Flint Water Crisis, Obama Wants to Gut Public Water Funds

President Barack Obama's 2017 budget proposal includes massive cuts to water funding, just weeks after he declared a state of emergency over the lead poisoning crisis in Flint. (Photo: Flint Journal)

Amid Flint Water Crisis, Obama Wants to Gut Public Water Funds

President's 2017 budget slashes $370 million from EPA's state water funds

President Barack Obama's 2017 budget, released Tuesday, includes a proposal to cut more than a third of a billion dollars from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) state water funding program, just weeks after the president declared a state of emergency over Flint, Michigan's water crisis.

The budget proposes slashing $370 million, or 11 percent, from the EPA's Clean Water State Revolving Funds (CW SRF)--which support water quality improvement projects like treatment plants--and reallocating the money to the Drinking Water (DW) SRF, which supports clean water systems and infrastructure.

Despite claims that the change would "boost water sustainability and reduce the price and energy costs of new water supply technology," watchdog groups warn that it does nothing to remedy the urgent water crises facing chronically underfunded communities like Flint.

But as Mae Wu, an attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), wrote in a blog post on Tuesday, that method is akin to "robbing Peter to pay Paul."

"Cutting funds that help keep pollution out of our water (CW SRF) and moving the money to remove pollution once it's already in our drinking water (DW SRF) is no solution at all," Wu wrote, noting that there is no guarantee the funds will ever even reach Flint.

"At best it is a short-term band-aid approach to addressing the chronic levels of underinvestment in our water infrastructure by local, state, and federal government," Wu said. "Both of the SRFs need more funding."

As Flint continues to struggle with lead poisoning in its public water, and Detroit residents are faced with ongoing water service shutoffs targeting low-income residents and communities of color, the cuts to such critical services are "unacceptable," said environmental advocacy group Food and Water Watch.

"Following the Flint water crisis, which is emblematic of our national water woes, it is outrageous that the Obama Administration can't be moved to truly step up and deliver the leadership needed to fully fund our water infrastructure," said the group's executive director Wenonah Hauter.

The cuts were also slammed on Capitol Hill, with Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) saying he was "grossly disappointed" by the proposal.

As Hauter pointed out, the budget is requesting a total of $2 billion for both SRFs, which "is a $257 million decrease over what Congress appropriated for 2016."

"Whether it's kids poisoned by lead in Flint and other towns, water service shutoffs in Baltimore and Detroit or water contaminated by factory farms in Ohio and Iowa, we face a growing water crisis that requires real, long term solutions that keep water clean, affordable and democratically controlled," Hauter said.

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