Eagle County Commissioners: EPA funding critical to state and local entities (column) | VailDaily.com

Eagle County Commissioners: EPA funding critical to state and local entities (column)

Eagle County Board of Commissioners
Valley Voices

Jill Ryan, Kathy Chandler-Henry, Jeanne McQueeney

In June, state and federal officials announced plans for two cleanup initiatives at the Eagle Mine Superfund site here in Eagle County. The plans are to reduce pollutants flowing into the Eagle River, as well as address soil contamination, which is necessary before a proposed housing development can move forward.

After 100-plus years of mining activity, the mine closed in the mid-1980s and was declared a Superfund site shortly thereafter. Thirty years ago, the Eagle River ran orange with mine waste. Today, the Eagle Mine Water Treatment Plant treats approximately 140 million gallons per year and removes 175 pounds of zinc daily, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Under the current administration's budget proposal, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's funding to clean up Superfund and brownfield sites in Colorado would be reduced by 30 percent. Funding to address leaking underground storage tanks and for nonpoint source pollution management programs would be eliminated entirely.

The EPA finances critical services that communities depend on to protect public health and environment, whether that's funding to clean up contaminated sites, air and water pollution monitoring devices or other safeguards. If Congress passes a reduced EPA budget, then at least some of the cost of those critical services will fall on state and local entities, including ours, and local citizens are the ones who stand to suffer the consequences.

The state of Colorado receives $54.7 million in grants yearly from the EPA, which goes toward cleaning up and restoring rivers, lakes and streams, addressing Colorado's 20 Superfund sites and 449 brownfield sites and other efforts to protect public health and environment. That grant money accounts for almost 30 percent of all state and local air-quality monitoring in Colorado. EPA also funded the state $2.1 million for water-quality protections in 2016.

Enforcing health and environmental regulations, protecting clean air and water and, consequently, protecting public health and our quality of life takes ongoing diligence and money. Please join us and encourage our lawmakers to adequately fund the EPA as they move forward with the budget process to protect clean air and water for our community and future generations.

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Jill Ryan, Kathy Chandler-Henry and Jeanne McQueeney are Eagle County commissioners.