Proposal would cut EPA funding by 23%, ax hundreds of jobs

Source: Kevin Bogardus, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, February 13, 2018

President Trump proposed drastic budget cuts today for U.S. EPA, although not as deep as last year.

Under his fiscal 2019 budget plan, EPA would receive $6.15 billion in funds, about a 23 percent decrease from funding levels enacted for fiscal 2017.

Some of EPA’s relief is due to Congress’ passage last week of a two-year budget deal that raised spending caps.

In an addendum included today with the White House’s budget blueprint, the Trump administration would send an additional $724 million to EPA for fiscal 2019, specifically to help clean up toxic waste sites in the Superfund program and fund grants to help build water infrastructure projects.

With those added funds, Trump proposed the $6.15 billion EPA budget. The president had planned to offer $5.4 billion for the agency’s funding in fiscal 2019 before the budget agreement was reached last week, according to other White House budget documents.

Trump would have proposed a smaller dollar amount for EPA in fiscal 2019 than what he offered under last year’s plan without the additional funds from the budget deal. For fiscal 2018, the White House planned for $5.7 billion for EPA under his budget blueprint.

Still, Trump’s EPA fiscal 2019 budget released today also falls far below what Congress has proposed for the prior fiscal year.

Under the House appropriations bill, EPA would receive $7.5 billion in fiscal 2018. It would receive even more funds, $7.91 billion, under the Senate version of the bill for that year. Congress still hasn’t approved fiscal 2018 spending, so those figures are not final.

The budget deal passed last week raised spending caps in fiscal 2018 and 2019 for $300 billion more in defense and non-defense funds. That legislation did not set out specific appropriations, so it may not save energy and environmental agencies from future targeted budget cuts by the Trump administration.

Several EPA programs remain on the chopping block, or would see their funding source reworked under Trump’s budget plan.

As part of Trump’s plan, EPA would administer its Energy Star program, meant to improve energy efficiency, through collecting user fees rather than from agency funds.

Trump is also requesting the elimination of a number of voluntary partnership programs related to energy and climate change, saying they aren’t essential to EPA’s core mission and can be implemented by the private sector. Fiscal 2017 enacted spending levels for these programs were $66 million.

Overall, the fiscal 2019 budget proposal would bring in substantial savings for EPA. The plan would eliminate funding for several EPA programs that cost the agency $598.5 million.

Hundreds of employees would leave the agency under Trump’s budget blueprint.

Trump’s fiscal 2019 plan for EPA has funding for 12,250 full-time employees, comparable to Reagan-era staffing levels at the agency. That’s still more employees at EPA than what Trump had proposed for fiscal 2018, which was about 11,600 workers.

EPA currently has about 14,000 employees.

In its fiscal 2019 proposal, the White House said its budget plan focuses EPA on its “core mission,” which would help restrain federal spending and “promote operational efficiencies” that would improve the agency’s performance.

As they did for fiscal 2018 legislation, lawmakers in both parties are likely to ignore Trump’s fiscal 2019 budget plan. Environmental groups were quick to pan the proposal, along with the president’s infrastructure plan that was also released today.

“This year Trump once again recommends gutting the agencies that protect our clean air, water, lands and wildlife, while adding an extreme rollback of our bedrock environmental laws disguised as an infrastructure plan,” Tiernan Sittenfeld, the League of Conservation Voters’ senior vice president for government affairs, said in a statement.


The Trump administration is requesting just 10 percent of the funding EPA normally receives for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and Chesapeake Bay Program.

Historically, the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay programs have received roughly $300 million and $73 million, respectively. EPA is now requesting just $30 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and $7.3 million for the Chesapeake Bay Program.

The administration proposes eliminating funding for the six other geographic programs, including those for Puget Sound and Long Island Sound.

The White House says the proposed budget “enhances monitoring of America’s significant watersheds.”

“The Budget provides funds to support basin-wide monitoring in these watersheds, which would assist decision-making on health and economic issues including harmful algal blooms and invasive species management,” the administration writes.

“The Budget also supports cooperative federalism by building State and local capacity to conduct monitoring, while recognizing that the primary responsibility for local ecosystem restoration rests with States and local groups.”

Last year, the administration proposed zeroing out all regional programs, including those for the bay and Great Lakes, prompting outrage from regional lawmakers.

While the House and Senate have not yet agreed on spending for fiscal 2018, they will not be eliminating those programs.

Both House and Senate proposals would maintain funding for the Great Lakes initiative at $300 million, while a Senate proposal would maintain funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program at $73 million, and a House bill would provide $60 million.

The administration’s budget proposal also states that EPA would support other Clean Water Act-related programs nationwide, including water quality criteria, total maximum daily loads, National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits, water infrastructure and “core wetlands programs.”

In the budget blueprint, EPA also vows to work with states and tribes on reducing contaminants in drinking water by revising standards for lead and copper.

In addition, the administration requests more funding for programs to help fund drinking water and wastewater system improvements.

The fiscal 2019 proposal includes $2.3 billion for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. That request lines up with a Senate proposal.

Just under $400 million of that was requested following Congress’ budget deal, and that portion of funding would be spent on investments in wastewater and stormwater infrastructure.

The administration writes that the rest of the State Revolving Fund request would be used “to reduce lead exposure and ensure small and disadvantaged communities have access to clean and safe water.”

The administration also requests $20 million for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program. The administration estimates that funding would result in $2 billion in credit assistance to communities, which could spur up to $4 billion in infrastructure investment when combined with other funding sources.

EPA is requesting $84 million for drinking water programs. That funding would be put to work as EPA revises lead and copper standards for drinking water.

The administration requests an additional $1 billion for direct loans under the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program.

Superfund, chemicals

The president’s budget would be a mixed bag for Superfund and lead paint cleanup efforts, two of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s top environmental priorities.

The Superfund program, which the administrator has vowed to improve, was initially slated for a $327 million cut from its current spending level of almost $1.1 billion.

The Office of Management and Budget justified those cuts by pointing to legislative reforms to the program that the White House proposed in its infrastructure plan (see related story).

But in recognition of the more generous two-year budget deal struck by Congress, OMB ultimately recommended restoring those Superfund cuts.

The “war on lead” that Pruitt has talked about waging could take a hit, as well. The budget calls for zeroing out categorical grants to support state and tribal authorized programs to train lead paint professionals and the Lead Risk Reduction Program, a certification effort.

The cuts would save about $14 million and $13.2 million, respectively. The budget notes that the Chemical Risk Review and Reduction program would take on the responsibilities of the eliminated lead paint efforts.

The administration made similar proposals regarding lead paint programs last year. The corresponding increase to the Chemical Risk Review Reduction program, however, didn’t offset those suggested cuts (Greenwire, Dec. 8, 2017).

The budget also calls again for the elimination of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board. The independent agency, which is tasked with reviewing accidents at chemical facilities, would receive $9 million in fiscal 2019 — just enough to wind itself down.

CSB’s investigations have often focused on “need for greater regulation of industry, which frustrated both regulators and industry,” OMB argued. Because of that and the “relative duplicative nature of its work,” Trump renewed his request to end the agency.

Congress rejected that proposal in the president’s previous budget and held the agency’s spending level steady at $11 million.

Air pollution, climate change

As part of a broader reorganization, the proposed budget would abolish the “Clean Air and Global Climate Change” account, which is expected to receive $245 million in fiscal 2018. Instead, that money — along with funding previously allocated to other core land, water, heathy communities and compliance programs — would be folded into two new accounts, dubbed “Core Mission” and “Rule of Law and Process.”

Together, those core programs are projected to receive $739 million in fiscal 2018; the two new accounts that would replace them are in line for $469 million in 2019, a reduction of almost 37 percent.

Traditional program boundaries would similarly be erased for state and tribal assistance grants, with overall funding slashed 30 percent, from $3.4 billion in discretionary budget authority this year to $2.4 billion in 2019.

The proposed budget would revive a “multipurpose” grant program that would give states $27 million for carrying out mandatory responsibilities for delegated programs. After Congress launched the program in fiscal 2016, to the tune of $21 million, it has not since received any follow-up funding.

But the administration is again trying to chop funding for the popular Diesel Emissions Reduction Act grant program, which hands out money to replace or retrofit older diesel-fueled vehicles and other equipment. In fiscal 2017, lawmakers gave the DERA program $60 million; for fiscal 2019, the White House is proposing to allocate $10 million.

Trump is also requesting significant investment in “cooperative federalism,” under which advocates say EPA and states would work collectively to protect the environment and public health, rather than EPA sending down mandates from on high.

Under the budget request’s environmental programs and management, Trump is asking for $148 million for cooperative federalism. He’s also requesting $68 million for state and tribal grants to be set aside for the practice.

Investing in cooperative federalism has long been a priority for Pruitt, who endorsed the notion in his long-term strategic plan, setting a broad goal of rebalancing “the power between Washington and the states to create tangible environmental results for the American people.”

Last summer, the Environmental Council of the States asked Pruitt to increase the flexibility for states to account for local ecological, social and economic conditions specific to a region. It argued that state programs have matured over the last 10 to 20 years and are now capable of adequately addressing environmental challenges (E&E News PM, June 12, 2017).

Democrats and former EPA employees have urged caution around this area, saying cooperative federalism amounts to the federal government renouncing oversight of state programs. States aren’t funded well enough to operate with maximum efficacy without federal assistance, they argue (E&E Daily, Jan. 24).

Reporters Corbin Hiar, Sean Reilly, Arianna Skibell, Camille von Kaenel and Ariel Wittenberg contributed.