State cuts will slow toxics use reduction and energy efficiency

November 24, 2008

It concerns us greatly that Governor Patrick has announced drastic cuts in the Office of Technical Assistance (OTA), the program in the Energy and Environmental Affairs office that helps industries reduce and eliminate their use of toxic chemicals and processes. The proposed cuts to OTA are so severe that they will prevent OTA from functioning effectively. We urge Governor Patrick to re-think those cuts.

Cuts to OTA would slow toxic use reduction. Photo from US Dept. of Energy

A study performed two years ago found that OTA helped industries reduce the use of toxic chemicals in Massachusetts by hundreds of millions of pounds. The study showed that companies did far better at reducing their toxics after being helped by OTA than they did before working with OTA. It was the first time an assistance program like OTA proved its effectiveness, and the report was applauded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and written up in environmental journals.

People living and working near industries assisted by OTA, as well as the workers in those industries, are the biggest beneficiaries of the reduced use of toxic chemicals. When less toxic chemicals are used, there are lower risks involved in their transportation, storage, use, and disposal. This results in less air pollution, water pollution, hazardous waste and fewer toxins in our products.

OTA’s case studies have been used by the United Nations, the Environmental Protection Agency and trade associations as examples to inspire others to find "win/win" solutions to environmental problems. In the past two years, OTA has developed the ability to assist with energy and water conservation as well as toxic chemicals. It has already convinced more than a dozen companies to work on significant energy use reduction projects. OTA has the experience to achieve with energy what it has achieved with toxics.

Once employing 30 people, OTA now has an office of 19. In the Patrick proposal, OTA will be cut more than any environmental agency and be reduced to about a half-dozen staff. Before the budget cuts, OTA had a goal of making 200 industry visits before July 2009. Under the new budget, OTA will likely only be able to make around 30 visits. This will result in numerous missed opportunities to reduce and eliminate the use of toxic chemicals in Massachusetts as well as achieve better energy efficiency.

There is still much pollution and many environmental burdens in lower income communities and communities of color. Children and adults in environmental justice communities suffer from asthma and other diseases that may be caused or aggravated by pollution. Having a strong state program like OTA to work with companies to reduce and eliminate toxic chemicals is an essential part of an overall environmental justice strategy to make sure everyone has the right to a healthy environment. We think the deep cuts proposed to OTA go in the wrong direction.

Please contact Governor Deval Patrick and Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles and ask them to restore funding to OTA to ensure the safety of all our neighborhoods.