Lowcountry worried about environmental impact of possible EPA budget cuts

As the Trump Administration rolls out proposed budget cuts, some are worried about the deficit within the Environmental Protection Agency. One local organization said the Lowcountry has a lot to lose.

Decades ago, raw sewage was dumped directly into Charleston Harbor. That’s no longer the case, but it is an example of the weight EPA standards carry.

The Southern Environmental Law Center is a non-profit watchdog. Blan Holman, is their attorney and part of their federal response team. He said the state relies heavily on EPA oversight and the funding that trickles down.

He worries about a cut down on enforcement of environmental laws.

“We can’t all be out there making sure the pipe we can’t see is poisonous, Somebody’s got to be looking out for us and that’s the role of DHEC and EPA,” Holman said. “The EPA is the one that develops the standards that deal with new kinds of threats so we don’t want to go back in time where rivers were catching on fire and the air wasn’t safe to breathe but at the same time, we want to go forward and make sure the new threats, we are dealing with them in a reasonable way.”

Earlier this week, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt offered support, acknowledging the many efforts by local watchdogs.

“We need to work diligently to grow jobs at the local level but be good stewards of our air and water at the same time,” Pruitt said. “I know that you care about that, I know that you focus upon that for your citizens and I want you to know that you've got a partner at the EPA that will work with you in that regard.”

But with funding in limbo and a greater burden placed on environmental non-profits, Holman said it doesn’t bode well for tackling climate change. He said South Carolina is a leader in solar power and hopes the state’s Clean Power Plan won’t go dark.

“Environmental protection, protecting the water, protecting the air goes hand in hand with economic growth,” he said. “You can do it all together and modern companies like Volvo or Boeing want to be in an area where there are clear rules.”

Holman added the Lowcountry is particularly vulnerable to pollution from neighboring cities like Greenville and Columbia. Charleston’s major waterways are all downstream from those locations.

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