(2017-03-16)Dozens of programs that deal with climate change, pollution clean-ups and energy efficiency would be wiped out by by the Trump administration’s budget, which seeks to demolish parts of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The regulator’s funding would be cut by nearly a third under Trump’s “America first” budget proposal (the name borrows from a phrase denounced by the Anti-Defamation League for its links to 1940s Nazi sympathisers), which requests $5.7bn for the EPA in 2018 – a $2.6bn cut, or 31%, on its existing budget. Around one in five EPA employees would lose their jobs.
The president can only recommend a budget; the real thing will be written and passed by Congress. However, the blueprint makes the administration’s worldview abundantly clear.
The environmental cuts, which are even more severe than the stringent budget EPA staff were bracing themselves for, would remove funding for the Clean Power Plan and scrap all climate change research programs and partnerships.
Funding for the clean-up of hazardous substances would be reduced by $330m, while enforcement of the EPA’s clean air and water laws, already considered overstretched by staff, would lose $129m – around a fifth of its budget.
Large-scale clean-up initiatives for the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay will be eliminated and left to the states, along with more than 50 other programs including: the Energy Star energy efficiency rating; help for Alaskan villages struggling with the impact of climate change; and a grant that helps states deal with air pollution. The EPA’s office of research and development would suffer a budget cut of about half, to $250m.
The White House’s budget document states the cuts would help the EPA “focus on core legal requirements” and “ease the burden of unnecessary federal regulations”. Before becoming president, Donald Trump promised to reduce the EPA to “little tidbits” and called the regulator a “disgrace”.
“You can’t drain the swamp and leave all the people in it. So, I guess the first place that comes to mind will be the Environmental Protection Agency,” said Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget. “The president wants a smaller EPA. He thinks they overreach, and the budget reflects that.”
Mulvaney confirmed on Thursday that the new administration had no interest in funding to combat climate change.
“We’re not spending money on that any more. We consider that to be a waste of your money,” Mulvaney told reporters at the White House.
Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator, has backed many of the cuts and delegation to the states but spoke up in support of the EPA’s work to clean up polluted sites. Staff were also reassured that enforcement of pollution rules would not be curtailed. But both areas are now under threat of hefty budget cuts.
EPA staff and green groups warned the budget would severely hobble the regulator and risk undoing the vast improvements in air and water quality enjoyed by Americans since President Richard Nixon created the agency in 1970.
“The US EPA is already on a starvation diet, with a bare-bones budget and staffing level,” said John O’Grady, an EPA biochemist and staff union leader.
“The administration’s proposed budget will be akin to taking away the agency’s bread and water,” O’Grady said, adding that the administration was “tempting fate” that other cities will now not suffer the sort of toxic water crisis that has engulfed Flint, Michigan.
Margie Alt, executive director of Environment America, said the budget is “dirty and dangerous and fails to protect our health or our planet”.
“Slashing EPA’s overall budget by more than a third means the agency cannot adequately enforce our clean air and clean water safeguards,” she said. “It is basically a ‘get out of jail free card’ for polluters. Congress should reject this budget.”
Gina McCarthy, the former EPA administrator during Barack Obama’s presidency, said the budget “ignores the will and health of our people” in favor of special interests.
“Literally and figuratively, this is a scorched earth budget that represents an all-out assault on clean air, water and land,” she said. “You can’t put ‘America first’ when you put the health of its people and its country last.”
Climate change funding has been targeted in other arms of government, with climate change assistance cut from the state department and a halt on all climate-related payments to the UN.
The department of energy, which is earmarked for a $1.7bn budget cut, could lose its ability to help low-income households with energy efficiency or develop its own low-carbon energy alternatives.
The budget scraps $250m in grants and programs overseen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including coastal and marine management initiatives that help fishing communities with their livelihoods and the impacts of climate change.
Management of public lands is set to be stretched, with the Department of the Interior targeted for a $1.6bn cut – 12% of its budget.
Funding for 49 national heritage areas would be eliminated, while funds for land acquisition would be reduced. Oil and gas drilling on public land will be supported, however, with the White House stating that it will back “core energy development programs”.
“The administration’s proposed budget is a non-starter for our national parks, our environment, and our cultural heritage, and should be dead on arrival in Congress,” said John Garder, budget director at the National Parks Conservation Association.
“Agencies like the National Park Service and EPA cannot take care of our treasured landscapes and historical landmarks with further cuts to what are already shoestring budgets.”
A mooted revamp of Nasa to dismantle its Earth sciences in favor of deep space exploration, first highlighted by the Guardian has not come to pass, however. The space agency has received a 0.8% budget cut proposal, although its office of education would be eliminated.
Robert Lightfoot, acting administrator of Nasa, said: “Overall science funding is stable, although some missions in development will not go forward and others will see increases.
“We remain committed to studying our home planet and the universe, but are reshaping our focus within the resources available to us – a budget not far from where we have been in recent years, and which enables our wide-ranging science work on many fronts.”