A federal program that pays for bacteria monitoring along Gulf of Mexico beaches is among those targeted for major cuts in President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for the Environmental Protection Agency.
The budget cuts, obtained and released by the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, shows the White House proposes eliminating funding for state grants for beach water quality testing. The EPA allocates $9.5 million annually for such grants.
The Texas General Land Office receives about $365,000 annually to provide the public with information about water quality at selected recreational beaches along the Texas Coast, said Bryan Preston, director of communications. The land office posts the advisories online at TexasBeachWatch.com.
The land office provides some funding to the program, including website and publication costs and some vehicle reimbursements. The land office also has provided funding for the beach watch program through other grants, but the amount varies year to year.
In 2014, the land office spent $123,524.90 on the program through coastal management grants from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In 2015, the land office spent $46,881.89 on the program with the same grants.
Preston would not say what would happen to the water quality testing program if the federal grants stopped.
“It is too early to speculate on the future of funding for this program and the GLO looks forward to working with the administration on crafting a federal budget that is lean and effective,” Preston said
The warnings tell the public about elevated levels of the enterococcus bacteria. The land office’s warning system includes 52 Galveston County beaches. Enterococcus is a bacteria that is found in fecal matter, and is generally more elevated after heavy rain. It is not a “flesh-eating” bacteria, but can be harmful for people with compromised immune systems.
The warnings can sometimes cause headaches for local tourism and health officials, particularly when the warnings — which typically last less than 48 hours — occur near holiday weekends and cause scares that some think drive away visitors.
That’s not an excuse to defund the program, however, officials said.
“I’d rather see us have it and explain what it is,” said Jerry Mohn, the president of the Texas Chapter of the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association. “I’d hate to see it gone.”
It’s not the first time an administration has proposed cutting funding for the beach watch programs.
In the last five years of his administration, President Barack Obama’s budgets proposed cutting state grants for beach water quality managing. The cuts were restored by Congress in the first four budgets. The fifth, the 2017 fiscal year budget, has still not been approved.
Environmental policy advocates say Obama’s proposals amounted to budgetary gamesmanship, that threatened cuts to popular state grants in order to motivate compromises.
Trump’s proposed budget cuts seem to fall in line with promises he made during his campaign, said Mara Dias, the Water Quality Manager for the Surfrider Foundation, nonprofit environmental organization focused on beach and shore issues.
“It’s a different environment,” Dias said. ‘There wasn’t this outward unhappiness that we are seeing against environmental protection.”
The water quality program is one of a small part of the budget cuts the White House is proposing for the EPA. A draft budget, reported on by Reuters and other news agencies on Friday, proposes a 25 percent — $2 billion — reduction in the agency’s budget. The draft budget proposes cuts to grants for lead cleanup, brownfield cleanup and emission-reduction programs.
Funding for EPA programs in and around the Gulf of Mexico would be reduced from $4.5 million to $1 million.
The cuts from the environmental programs are meant to pay for an increase in military spending.