As readers of this paper are no doubt aware, the Trump administration has proposed draconian cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection receives a substantial portion of its operating budget from the federal agency. Reducing that funding means possible severe cutbacks for DEP staff, who are tasked with safeguarding one of our most important economic assets: our natural environment.

I say “assets” because, in the business world, assets are used to ensure future economic growth. Maine’s assets are its natural resources and environmental quality. Jeopardizing them does not make economic sense.

Any businessperson worth his or her salt knows that drawing down wealth for short-term gain can have devastating long-term consequences for his or her financial future. So it is for the proposed budget cuts. It may seem as though the cuts will save money in the near term, but the risk to the country’s (and the state’s) natural capital could be a long-term disaster. I will focus on just two examples: the proposed cuts to the nonpoint source reduction program and to the brownfield redevelopment program.

Let’s begin with the proposal to roll back the nonpoint source reduction program. Nonpoint source pollution (like runoff from roads or agricultural fields) can contribute to water quality issues such as algal blooms or red tide. The result can be very real economic harm to some of our most important industries.

For example, last October, a harmful algal bloom led to the closure of clamming and mussel harvesting up and down the Maine coast, as well as a costly shellfish recall by the Maine Department of Marine Resources. The economic costs associated with such a closure and recall are not just the lost income for the fishermen. It also includes the lost income for the processors as well as the supermarkets that sell their product, the restaurants that serve the shellfish, the workers in those markets and restaurants and so on, through the multiplier effect.

Even more than that, the full economic costs of that event include the lost opportunities for investment.

Aquaculture, one of Maine’s burgeoning industries, depends on clean water as its most important input. The fact that algal blooms have been increasing in number and severity during the past decade leads to a climate of uncertainty – and uncertainty leads to lower investment. If we want healthy fishing, shellfishing and aquaculture industries, we have to protect the assets that make investment in such industries possible.

Still more costs resulting from nonpoint source pollution (outlined in my most recent blog post) include beach closures, health expenditures and decreased property values.

One more example concerns brownfield redevelopment. This program enables municipalities to receive funding, technical support and low-interest loans for the cleanup of former industrial sites. Let me be clear: The cleanup of these sites is not solely for environmental purposes (although many of these sites do contain hazardous materials that, if not disposed of properly, could imperil our rivers, stream, land and air). We need that land to be reclaimed for development and investment purposes.

The Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, for example, has identified over 20 former industrial sites that have high redevelopment potential but are still too contaminated to utilize. The recent closure of several paper mills throughout the state highlights this need. In order to attract much-needed industry in the most economically challenged parts of the state, previously contaminated land must be cleaned up to where it can be used for other purposes. Yes, we have a lot of available land in Maine – but not so much that we can afford to let our existing assets depreciate.

All this is not to say that reducing pollution and cleaning up brownfields won’t cost money. Of course it will. But it’s money that’s used to safeguard and improve our assets. In my world, that’s called “investment.” Let’s not sacrifice future economic growth for short-term political gain.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.