Last week, the President and Congress shook hands on a deal that stripped more than $1.5 billion – 16% – from the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency, specifically gutting funds for reducing pollution from coal mining and power plants. Why? Too much clean air in power plant neighborhoods? Or maybe this 16% cut is simply EPA’s fair share toward trimming the nation’s deficit? Hardly. EPA got one of the biggest percentage cuts of all – compare with the Department of Defense, which actually got a $5 billion increase. Put it another way: if every federal program had gotten a cut as large as 16% last week, our deficit problem would be solved. So, there was obviously more than “fiscal responsibility” at work. Plain and simple, the need for a budget deal last week served as an excuse for an attack on EPA by big polluters and those elected representatives who serve them in Washington. Their logic was breathtakingly simple. If we take EPA’s money away, EPA can’t make us stop polluting the air and water. So that’s what happened last week. But the truly bad thing about this deal is not so much what it did to EPA’s current budget, but that it sent the signal – from the Obama White House, no less – that protecting families and their homes against pollution is just not a priority these days. That when someone is searching for funding to sustain tax cuts for millionaires, or to add to the Defense Department budget for war, or for just about any other reason at all, we will sacrifice our health and safety. Bad idea. Really bad idea. Here’s what I learned over the last 10 years fighting polluters in court: The polluters have EPA on the run…right now. Even before last week’s massive EPA budget cut takes hold. In every case, I saw polluters employ armies of lawyers and consultants to browbeat an under-staffed EPA into thinking that the polluter really isn’t responsible for the pollution in the first place, or that the pollution really isn’t that dangerous after all. Or both. Their goal is to spend less money. And they accomplish it, by slowing down – to a 50-year crawl, in some cases – the timeline for cleaning up toxic dump sites that are the source of contamination in neighborhoods all over the country, and minimizing the scope of any clean-up that EPA ultimately decides is necessary. And now, after last week, EPA is even less able to do battle with them on these critical issues. Last week was a big day for polluters. And bad news for everybody else. A hell of a lot more than the budget got cut.