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Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Joined by Congressman Brian Higgins & Several Western New York Environmental Organizations Rally to “Save the EPA”

Aug 22, 2017
Press Release
51 Years After President Lyndon Johnson Visited Buffalo on his “Save Lake Erie Tour” Western New Yorkers Stress Importance of Federal Protections & Investments in Clean Air & Water

Citizens Campaign for the Environment led a “Save the EPA” rally with Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) and several Western New York environmental organizations emphasizing the importance of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) role in protecting the health and safety of communities.

The event took place during National Water Quality month; 51 years after President Lyndon B. Johnson visited Buffalo, NY to embark on a three-day Northeast tour to save Lake Erie.  During the August 19, 1966 stop in Niagara Square President Johnson said, “The steady decline of Lake Erie is one pollution problem which I know has a special meaning to every person here.  What happens to Lake Erie will alone affect the lives of 25 million people in the State of New York, in the land of the United States, and in our neighbor, Canada.  So, Lake Erie just must be saved. And if we work together--the Federal Government, the State governments, the towns, the cities, and the local communities--we can save Lake Erie.”

The EPA has helped to make WNY a cleaner and healthier place to live—playing a key role in the cleanup of the Buffalo River, holding Tonawanda Coke accountable for deadly air pollution, cleaning up toxic waste sites, and much more.

Brian Smith, Associate Executive Director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said: “The EPA has helped to restore the Great Lakes, hold Tonawanda Coke accountable for its deadly air pollution, cut acid rain pollution coming from Midwest power plants, and so much more. Draconian funding cuts proposed by the President and policy riders that rollback environmental protections proposed by congressional leaders would cripple the EPA, threatening WNY’s environment, health, and economy.  We commend Congressman Higgins for his leadership to fight against these cuts, and urge all of our federal representatives from New York to join the fight to save the EPA.”

Congressman Brian Higgins, a member of the bipartisan Congressional Great Lakes Task Force said, “On April 22nd, 1970, the first Earth Day, 20 million people across the country went into their parks, streets and waterfronts and they demanded change.  Later that year President Nixon established the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Congress approved seven of the most progressive environmental legislations in the history of America.  Prior to that the Buffalo River was so polluted and filled with toxic industrial waste that it caught fire.   Efforts to rollback EPA protections, enforcement and investments threaten the great progress we’ve made and the good it does for both our environment and economy.”

Additional participants in the Save the EPA Rally held at Buffalo Riverfest Park along the shores of the Buffalo River included: Buffalo Niagara RIVERKEEPER, PUSH Buffalo, The Clean Air Coalition of WNY, Citizen Science Community Resources, the Sierra Club Group of Western New York, Partnership for the Public Good, WNY Peace Center and the WNY Land Conservancy. 

Jill Jedlicka, executive director of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper stated: “Before the establishment of the USEPA and the Clean Water Act, economic prosperity correlated with burning rivers, a dead Lake Erie, and toxic neighborhoods like Love Canal. The environmental history of Western New York is a global example of how water pollution is bad for the economy, but also how water protection and restoration can drive economic recovery. The current attempts to remove the nation’s clean water protections will negatively impact thousands of miles of waterways across the country, and even has the potential to undermine the recent restoration progress in our own region. Not since the 1960’s have communities had to work so hard on the basic human right to clean water.”

“My experience with EPA emergency cleanups in Buffalo and Western New York provides the most direct financial impact on our community. EPA has routinely come to WNY to clean up difficult corporate or abandoned sites with extensive hazards and toxins with cleanup costs in the millions of dollars. These efforts directly benefit our local economy and health,” said Joseph Gardella, Jr., the John and Frances Larkin Professor of Chemistry at the University at Buffalo, who is currently serving a three-year term on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Science Advisory Board. “I am also concerned about the impact of budget cuts on EPA staff in critical areas of the Great Lakes watershed, and across our region. The heart of EPA are the professionals who every day work to improve the environment, our health and economy across the country.”

Sierra Club of Western New York Board member Lynda Schneekloth added, “Those of us who live in Western New York know what life was like before the Environmental Protection Agency.  We have a terrible legacy of waste that was generated prior to the 1970s and all of the federal environmental laws.  The EPA has been critical in both helping the region clean-up much of that waste left from unregulated production and through its structure of oversight in monitoring the creation, transport and disposal of currently produced hazardous waste.  This agency is called the Environmental PROTECTION Agency because it protects our health, our waters and our lands.  One might argue that at this moment in history, with climate change and its amplifying impact, that we should be extending its power to help communities and citizens adapt the changes that we are, and will, experience.” 

“Buffalo, NY was once a powerhouse dotted with manufacturing and steel mill factories. However, we lost half of our population in the second half of the century and became the third-poorest big city in the US. Facing challenges due to poverty, some of the highest energy burdens and environmental degradation that threatened our fresh waterways,” said PUSH Buffalo Deputy Director Rahwa Ghirmatzion.  “Due to the EPA and local efforts to clean-up Lake Erie and the waterways that connect it to Lake Ontario, Buffalo is well underway to reviving the economy by focusing on the blue and green sectors. In Upstate NY, we are training the next generation workforce to build truly resilient neighborhoods by focusing on ecological stewardship, producing renewable energy and being the water protectors to 20% of the world's freshwater flowing in the Great Lakes Region. With the backdrop of climate change and climate disasters, we cannot afford to turn the clock-backwards.”

Jackie James Creedon, Director of Citizen Science Community Resources said, "In 2004, my neighbors and I discovered that our air contained benzene-a known carcinogen, we worked with EPA and other officials to uncover the source and pursue an end to the pollution.  This work resulted in a U.S. District Court case (March 2014) which leveled 24 million dollars in fines upon Tonawanda Coke Corp., identified as the source of the pollution.  Since this time, air pollution in our community is cleaner; benzene has been reduced by 92%. Additionally,  the company was ordered to fund two studies ($12.4 million) that will help us understand the environmental and health impacts of Tonawanda Coke's pollution.  None of this would have happened if it wasn't for the EPA and the hard working agency representatives that helped us fight for justice and win back our right to breathe clean air!"

"Since EPA Administrator Pruitt has taken office we have experienced threats to eliminate critical environmental, climate and health regulations,” said Rebecca Newberry, Executive Director, Clean Air Coalition.  “For decades, until the Trump Administration, the EPA has regulated environmental pollutants to make the air safer.  When environmental regulations are weakened, the health of people in communities like ours is threatened. The proposed cuts to the EPA will harm white working class communities and communities of color - those who are most likely to be impacted by environmental injustice and pollution. We need to stand up to the Trump's administration's attacks on our health and quality of life."

“Gutting the U.S. EPA and its programs tasked with protecting clean water would be a disaster, rolling back decades of hard work to restore and protect our nation’s greatest fresh water resource – the Great Lakes,” said Alliance for the Great Lakes Water Project Manager Nate Drag. “Restoring and protecting the Great Lakes is inextricably linked to regional prosperity. We cannot add jobs, improve quality of life in our cities, and redevelop the economic strength of Upstate New York and the Midwest without protecting the Great Lakes.”

Why is there concern about the future of the EPA & the impact on clean air and water?

  • The White House proposed to slash the EPA budget by 31% and completely eliminate the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
  • A spending bill passed out of committee in the House would slash the EPA’s budget by $ 528 million, a 7% cut from the FY2017.  The bill also includes many policy riders that rollback environmental protections.
  • EPA enforcement is significantly down in 2017, when compared to the previous three Administrations.  This year the agency collected 60 % less in civil penalties from polluters. 
  • The EPA has begun the process of repealing the 2015 Clean Water Rule, with a public comment period expiring September 27, 2017.  
  • The Agency is delaying rules that limit the risk of lead in drinking water.
  • The Administration is considering rolling back greenhouse gas emission standards for heavy duty an light-duty vehicles.
  • The EPA is considering revising 2015 guidelines that put limits on coal-fired power plant wastewater dumping into rivers and lakes
  • The EPA has removed the climate change section from its website.
  • A bill (H.R. 861) was introduced in the House of Representatives which would terminate the EPA.