Local environmentalists and elected officials are highlighting how proposed 2018 budget cuts for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would directly impact Northwest Indiana.
"The public needs to understand very clearly that the proposed cuts to the EPA will significantly impact our ability to protect human health and the environment in this state," said Michael Mikulka, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 704, which represents more than 900 EPA employees in the Chicago regional office and across the Midwest.
The proposed EPA cuts were the subject of a press conference held Tuesday on the lakefront at Marquette Park that included Mikulka; Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson; Cathy Martin, Save the Dunes Program Manager; and Ashley Williams, of the Sierra Club's Indiana's Beyond Coal Campaign in Indiana.
With heavy industry along the shores of Lake Michigan and environmental problems present in Northwest Indiana, including the Superfund site in East Chicago and the carcinogen hexavalent chromium spill earlier this spring in Lake Michigan off of Portage, Freeman-Wilson said the necessity of a strong EPA presence in Northwest Indiana is apparent.
"We don't have to think about this in the abstract," she said. "What we've seen in Flint, what we've seen in East Chicago and what we've seen in our own Gary, Indiana, underscores how important that agency is to us.
"The efforts to reduce this agency are unconscionable. And I've been working with mayors all over the country to ensure we maintain the funding that is needed for the EPA."
The House Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill last month that would cut the EPA's 2018 funding by $528 million or 6.5 percent.
Martin agreed with Freeman-Wilson citing EPA's response to the chromium spill in April as a prime example of his the agency protects the health of Northwest Indiana citizens.
"Their response and investigation into that incident helped ensure that are drinking water is safe, public safety is maintained and these sort of accidents don't happen again," she said.
Mikulka said he believes the current administration is trying to further deplete the EPA staff that's already been cut to a "bare bones" level
"This is unacceptable, in addition to these cuts, the Trump administration is currently working to bleed the agency of talented staff through a mass buyout program," Mikulka said. In July, the EPA sent letters to nearly 200 employees working in the Region 5 office in Chicago asking them to leave the agency no later than Sept. 2, Mikulka said.
More than 30 employees from the EPA's Region 5 office, which serves Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin, accepted the voluntary separation agreement or an early buyout, he said.
Multiple phone calls made to the EPA Monday were not immediately returned.