The legacy of Austin’s polluting past still lives in its soil. Parcels of land, especially on the city’s East Side, carry contamination from businesses and industries that long ago closed up shop. For the last several years, the city has had federal help cleaning up some of the land for new uses.
But now that funding is under threat. The program that provides the grants would be slashed by 30 percent under the Trump administration's proposed budget.
When asked about the cuts at a news conference in Austin last month, interim regional EPA administrator Samuel Coleman was circumspect.
“The agency really looks forward to meeting with the appropriate committee staff, responding to questions," he said. "And then we will anxiously await the appropriation level that Congress provides."
Over the last few years, Austin has received more than $1.5 million in EPA grants for these contaminated areas, or brownfields. The grants helped the city redevelop Mabel Davis Park and the African-American Cultural and Heritage Facility, among other sites.
“Our Austin brownfields office has provided assistance, assessments, cleanup planning on 52 properties, totaling more than 930 acres,” Mayor Steve Adler said at the press event with Coleman.
Since then, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has met both House and Senate appropriations committees to defend the proposed budget, which includes a whopping 31 percent reduction in funding for the agency, including a 20 percent reduction in staff.
“I believe we can fulfill the mission of our agency with a trim budget, with proper leadership and management,” he told the House Appropriations Committee.
But when it comes to grant-based programs, like the one that pays for cleaning up brownfields, even he conceded improved efficiency wouldn't bring back funding. Simply put, less money for grants would mean less money for cities like Austin to clean up polluted land.