Things are looking pretty grim these days for the Environmental Protection Agency, the nation's top health-and-habitat watchdog that has become a main target of the Trump Administration's push to curb government regulation.
Leaked budget documents recently made public reveal that President Donald Trump's administration intends to follow through on its campaign rhetoric to ax many of the EPA's signature programs.
Those cuts could have a pronounced impact for Mountain View and the rest of the Bay Area, according to experts in the field. On the chopping block are programs for air and water quality, climate research and local bayland restoration. The partial glimpse of the proposed budget shows about $2 billion of the $8.1 billion agency's funding being wiped away.
"Trump said during the campaign he would dismantle the EPA, and this budget reflects those priorities to a T," said Alex Formuzis, spokesman for the Environmental Working Group, an independent advocacy nonprofit. "This means dirtier water, dirtier air and far less in the way of cleaning up toxic sites."
This doesn't bode well for the city of Mountain View, which has four EPA-administered Superfund sites within its boundaries. For nearly 30 years, those programs have been involved in cleaning up the public health hazard caused by the industrial waste left by the area's former semiconductor factories and the U.S. Navy base at Moffett Field.
The San Francisco office of the EPA declined to comment for this story.
Environmental groups were disheartened earlier this year to see a longstanding adversary of the EPA appointed by Trump to head the agency. Scott Pruitt, who sued the EPA 13 times as Oklahoma's attorney general, was confirmed to the agency's top post under a promise he would scale back its reach.
While mostly a critic of the agency, Pruitt has spoken favorably of the EPA's targeted cleanups, including Superfund and the similar Brownfields Program. Last week, at a gathering of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, he told the crowd that the twin programs to restore contaminated sites were "absolutely essential." Nevertheless, the proposed budget cuts would reduce the EPA's Brownfield programs and grants by about $26 million, or about 35 percent.
The new budget documents make no mention of the EPA Superfund program, leaving its fate unclear at this time. Formuzis said he believes the program would likely suffer as linked programs and staffing within the agency are downsized.
The silver lining for Superfund sites is that much of the funding for long-term cleanup doesn't come from the EPA. That bill is mostly paid by the parties deemed responsible for causing the pollution. For Mountain View, the companies Fairchild Semiconductor, Raytheon and Intel have carried most of the costs over the last 30 years to remove contaminants such as carcinogenic trichloroethylene (TCE) from the local groundwater.
It is probably safe to assume those companies would continue to pay the cleanup costs, said City Councilman Lenny Siegel, who also serves as executive director of the Center for Public Environmental Oversight. But he admitted it was hard to predict what would happen.
"When it comes to the individual programs that (the Trump administration) didn't target, we really don't know what they're going to do," Siegel said.
What is very clear is that the federal government intends to step away from commitments to help restore the local bayland marshes. The EPA cuts would entirely eliminate the $4.8 million earmarked each year for San Francisco Bay Area, just as all nine counties are set to begin an unprecedented remediation effort.
Last year, more than 70 percent of voters approved the Measure AA parcel tax to clean up and restore the Bay Area's tidal wetlands. That restoration effort was proposed under the assumption that the federal government would be a willing partner and help put forward one-third of the $1.5 billion estimated cost to restore 35,000 acres, said David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay.
Through 2016, there were nearly 10 times more requests for grants than there was available funding provided by the EPA for local bay restoration, he said.
"The real story here is that the Bay needs more federal investment, not less," Lewis said. "It'll only get more expensive the longer we wait."
Lewis also highlighted the loss of about $400 million across a variety of EPA grant programs for states. Typically these grants are intended to offset the costs for states complying with federal mandates.
The EPA budget is just one small piece of the unusual political situation in the nation's capital. Around this time of the year, the White House is typically presenting its budget proposal to Congress to review. Like so many other issues at the federal level, that process is running behind schedule.