A new report shows that a majority of states, including three in the Mountain West, have cut funding for environmental agencies, at a time when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has also seen its budget slashed.
The report, published Thursday, comes from the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit watchdog focused on the enforcement of environmental law. It finds that 30 states among the lower 48, including Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, have decreased funding for their respective pollution control programs, when adjusted for inflation.
“We found that a majority of states have cut their pollution control spending and staffing over the last decade—often more drastically than EPA—even at times when overall state budgets have grown and environmental challenges have increased,” the report states. “This downsizing of environmental protection agencies at both the federal and state levels has happened during an unprecedented boom in the U.S. oil and gas industry.”
Eric Schaeffer, the Environmental Integrity Project’s executive director, says some of the cuts started because of the Great Recession, but many states have yet to increase funding to pre-recession levels. That, he says, can lead to significant backlogs or states rushing through approvals without proper studies.
“You can look at some initial cuts back in 2010-2011 when budgets were really hard hit, but we saw the declines continue after that,” he said. “And we saw environmental budgets drop and their workforce cuts continue, even in states where the overall spending statewide was increasing.”
In the Mountain West, Colorado, Nevada and Utah all increased environmental agency funding. And Montana and Nevada increased staffing levels.
The EPA’s funding for pollution control and science, meanwhile, has been cut 16 percent over the last decade, the report notes. Since 2008, the EPA has reduced staffing and funding, when adjusted for inflation.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.