JUNEAU, Alaska — Alaska environmental conservation officials warned lawmakers that budget cuts are increasing the dangers to residents.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation gave the warning as lawmakers work this week to finalize the budgets of various state agencies, the Juneau Empire reported Wednesday.

The department has seen its operating budget reduced from $87.9 million in 2014 to a proposal of $80.2 million for fiscal year 2019.

The department is tasked with enforcing drinking water safety, sanitation standards, food safety, and responding to oil spills.

“You don’t have the same amount of inspections, you don’t have the same amount of assistance to the small communities that may be having problems with their drinking water systems,” said Larry Hartig, the department’s director. “You’re going to have more instances of problems with human health.”

Christina Carpenter, director of the Division of Environmental Health, said the funding cuts have completely changed how the department inspects restaurants, grocery stores and the sources of Alaska residents’ food.

“We’re in a position where we’re now prioritizing work based upon on funding source first and then risk second,” she said.

Despite the cuts, lawmakers said residents should still trust the conservation department to keep them safe.

“I feel that we are safe, but we are probably at a very minimal level (of funding),” Democrat Rep. Neal Foster of Nome said. “I’ve had this subcommittee this year and last year, and from what I’ve seen, I don’t feel like we can make any further cuts to ADEC. If we did, I would start questioning, I think, to a greater extent whether people who go out to eat at a restaurant, should be concerned.”

Republican Rep. DeLena Johnson of Palmer said department administrators told her residents should be safe under the proposed budget cuts.


Information from: Juneau (Alaska) Empire, http://www.juneauempire.com