By Valerie Volcovici and Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump‘s administration proposed a 31 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget on Thursday, as the White House seeks to eliminate climate change programs and cut initiatives to protect air quality and Water.
The 2018 EPA budget proposed by the White House, with the biggest cut proposed for any federal agency, comes as Trump seeks to eliminate regulations that he says are hampering oil drillers, coal miners and American farmers. The proposed cuts are a starting point in negotiations with Congress and could be moderated.
The proposal would eliminate 3,200 EPA employees, or 19 percent of the current workforce. It would also effectively erase former President Barack Obama‘s initiatives to combat climate change by cutting funding for the agency’s Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
“Consistent with the president’s America First Energy Plan, the budget reorients EPA’s air program to protect the air we breathe without unduly burdening the US economy,” read a summary of the agency’s proposed budget.
Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator, denies that human actions are the root cause of climate change and, in his previous role as attorney general for the Oklahoma oil producer, he sued the agency more than a dozen times. Pruitt believes that Congress should determine whether carbon dioxide is a pollutant that needs regulation. With both houses currently run by Republicans and influential committees headed by lawmakers from oil-producing states, that’s unlikely anytime soon.
The budget would also eliminate about $ 100 million in spending on research and international programs to combat climate change.
Trump also doubts the science of climate change and has said the country can drastically reduce green regulations without compromising air and water quality.
Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, told reporters that the EPA’s core functions and beyond “could be satisfied with this budget” and that the agency would have flexibility on how to implement cuts. But he was blunt in describing Trump’s vision. “The president wants a smaller EPA,” he said.
But the EPA had already faced heavy cuts under Obama. Janet McCabe, a former EPA air officer, said the proposed budget would not only harm the agency’s ability to respond to emergencies, but it would undermine daily efforts to keep air and water clean to protect human health.
RETURN THE CLOCK
The proposed cuts would extend well beyond climate change. It would cut about $ 427 million for regional pollution cleanup programs, including in the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay. Funding for the Superfund program to clean up the nation’s most polluted sites would drop from $ 330 million to $ 762 million.
The budget summary said the rationale is to give state and local governments, which often face severe budget constraints, responsibility for such cleanup efforts.
Trump’s proposal would also cut the budget of the EPA’s enforcement division, which fines companies for pollution, by 31 percent. It would eliminate dozens of other programs, including the popular Energy Star appliance efficiency program, aimed at reducing energy use in the US.
Environmentalists criticized the plan, saying it would return the United States to 1977 when foggy skies and polluted rivers prompted lawmakers to strengthen federal clean air and clean water laws. “Turning the clock back to 1977 will not ‘make America great again.’ ‘It will make America bite again,'” said Conrad Schneider, defense director for the Clean Air Task Force.
One area that would see a little boost is the State Revolving Funds, low-interest loans for investments in water and sanitation infrastructure. The budget would add $ 4 million to funding, raising its budget to $ 100 million.
While the budget was a dark cloud for many EPA employees, there was at least some hope that some opportunities would exist on the other side of the country.
At EPA headquarters in Washington, representatives from the state of California, where energy commissions and a clean air agency are hiring, handed out recruiting brochures to employees heading to work. “Fight climate change, work for California,” read the flyers.