The White House released a “skinny budget” Thursday, calling for a 31 percent, or $2.5 billion, cut to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) funding and reducing its workforce by 3,200 employees.
The budget aims to cut funding to EPA climate programs and grants outside the agency’s legal purview. Taken together, the White House wants EPA to play a support role for states and tribes, and not a driver of costly regulations.
“EPA would primarily support States and Tribes in their important role protecting air, land, and water in the 21st Century,” reads a White House summary of EPA’s budget.
Trump’s preliminary budget proposal to Congress recommends increasing funds to states and tribes for drinking and wastewater infrastructure, but cuts dozens of federal-level grants and programs.
The budget saves $100 million through cutting funds to implement the Clean Power Plan rule limiting carbon dioxide emissions at power plants and “international climate change programs, climate change research and partnership programs.”
Trump is expected to order the EPA to rescind the Clean Power Plan and key Obama-era policies promoting the former president’s climate agenda. That order could be issued within days.
The White House also claims $958 million in savings from eliminating duplicative enforcement programs and grants the administration sees as state and local responsibilities.
That’s on top of $27 million in cuts to the “Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Chesapeake Bay, and other geographic programs.” As well as cutting $233 million from the Office of Research and Development’s 2017 funding levels.
Trump also recommended cutting $330 million from cleaning up Superfund sites and force the program to use “existing settlement funds to clean up hazardous waste sites.”
A Daily Caller News Foundation investigation found EPA keeps billions of Superfund dollars in an account with little public oversight. EPA has also let hundreds of toxic waste sites sit uncleaned for decades, despite accumulating billions of dollars from legal settlements.
The budget cuts EPA funding from $8.3 billion to $5.7 billion, which results in 3,200 fewer positions from EPA’s current 15,300-employee workforce.
The White House previously considered a 25 percent cut to EPA’s budget, but came back with even deeper cuts after EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt pushed back against the initial budget proposal.
Pruitt asked the White House for $7 billion in 2018 and told local officials he would fight to keep water infrastructure and environmental cleanup funding.
The White House may have disagreed with Pruitt on funding levels, but they agreed with the former Oklahoma attorney general on the role EPA should take in the coming years. Pruitt has been a vocal proponent of states’ authority in environmental regulations.
“Process, rule of law, and cooperative federalism, that is going to be the heart of how we do business at the EPA,” Pruitt said in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February.
Conservative groups and some Republicans have cheered the cuts to EPA and other federal agencies, but not all GOP lawmakers seem to be on board.
“This budget proposal is a serious attempt to trim the fat in many different bloated areas of the federal government,” Adam Brandon, the president of the conservative FreedomWorks, said in a statement.
“We are in a very bad fiscal position since President Obama ran up the debt by trillions of dollars. We need an axe, not a scalpel, if we are ever going to reduce our debt,” Brandon said.
Democrats and environmentalists, unsurprisingly, opposed cuts to EPA’s budget. They argue eliminating environmental programs will make the U.S. look more like pollution-choked China.
“Donald Trump is using his office to hand the reins of government over to corporate polluters,” Ben Schreiber, senior political strategist for Friends of the Earth, said.
“Yet the Trump administration has used its budget to assault the agencies tasked with protecting America’s public health,” he said.
Th White House proposal is not a full budget — that will be released in May and will include recommendations for entitlements and tax policy.
Ultimately, Congress will craft the federal budget and could end up rolling back some of the cuts Trump has proposed.
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