What’s at Stake in Trump’s Proposed E.P.A. Cuts

Source: By HIROKO TABUCHI, New York Times • Posted: Tuesday, April 11, 2017

President Trump’s proposed cuts to the E.P.A. include, clockwise from top left, reductions to the Superfund program, which is cleaning the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn; the monitoring of public water systems like the one in Flint, Mich.; and cuts to vehicle tests and certifications, which would affect automakers like Fiat/Chrysler. The proposal calls for added security for Scott Pruitt, the agency’s new administrator, bottom left. Clockwise from top left: Spencer Platt/Getty Images; Brett Carlsen/Getty Images; Alan Diaz/Associated Press; Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

What is at stake as Congress considers the E.P.A. budget? Far more than climate change.

The Trump administration’s proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency budget are deep and wide-ranging. It seeks to shrink spending by 31 percent, to $5.7 billion from $8.1 billion, and to eliminate a quarter of the agency’s 15,000 jobs.

The cuts are so deep that even Republican lawmakers are expected to push back. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the chairwoman of the Interior and Environment Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, pointedly reminded Mr. Trump last month that his budget request was just “the first step in a long process.”

Here are some proposed cuts that are likely to face resistance when the budget reaches Congress.

Tap water

Flint, Mich., is still reeling from its tainted water crisis, and unsafe levels of lead have turned up in tap water in city after city. Still, the E.P.A. is looking to decrease grants that help states monitor public water systems by almost a third, to $71 million from $102 million, according to an internal agency memo first obtained by The Washington Post.

The Public Water System Supervision Grant Program has been critical in making sure communities have access to safe drinking water. In Texas, for example, state-contracted workers collect drinking water samples across the state, an effort funded in part by federal grants.

Much of the risk to the country’s water supply stems from its crumbling public water infrastructure: a network of pipes, treatment plants and other facilities built decades ago. Although Congress banned lead pipes in 1986, between 3.3 million and 10 million older ones remain, primed to leach lead into tap water.

Criminal and civil enforcement

Sharp cuts in the agency’s enforcement programs could curtail its ability to police environmental offenders and impose penalties. The budget proposal reduces spending on civil and criminal enforcement by almost 60 percent, to $4 million from a combined $10 million. It also eliminates 200 jobs.

Just last week, the agency fined Sunoco Pipeline, a subsidiary of the operator behind the Dakota Access pipeline, nearly $1 million over a 2012 spill. The spill sent 1,950 barrels of gasoline into two waterways near Wellington, Ohio, forcing the evacuation of 70 people.

One enforcement activity that could be set for an increase: security for Scott Pruitt, the new E.P.A. administrator. The agency has asked for 10 additional full-time staff members for a round-the-clock security detail — a first for an E.P.A. chief, who usually has only door-to-door protection — and more than doubling the agency’s infrastructure and operations staff.

Geographic programs

The agency is taking an equal-opportunity approach to regional cleanup programs, proposing to virtually eliminate all of them: Chesapeake Bay, Gulf of Mexico, Lake Champlain, Long Island Sound, Puget Sound, San Francisco Bay, South Florida, the Great Lakes.

Together, those projects amount to a loss of more than $400 million in federal funding for the regions involved. The largest part of that goes to the Great Lakes restoration effort, which is helping revive wetland habitats, clean up toxic pollution, combat invasive species and prevent runoff from farms and cities.

The E.P.A.’s defunding of these projects could backfire. Much of the federal money has gone toward helping bring affected communities to the table to find solutions. Absent that route, communities could sue the E.P.A. for failing to act, ultimately running up the agency’s legal bills and slowing remediation as cases wind their way through the courts.

Superfunds and brownfields

Superfund is as high-stakes as environmental programs get. It makes federal funds available for the cleanup of sites contaminated by hazardous substances and pollutants, like the now-defunct Wolff-Alport Chemical Company in Queens, in New York City, which was designated a Superfund site in 2014. The site is heavily contaminated with thorium, a radioactive metal with a half-life of 14 billion years that has been linked to a higher incidence of lung, pancreatic and bone cancer. Superfund money is helping clean up the thorium.

The Superfund program can actually save taxpayers money, because it lets the E.P.A. identify polluters and compel them to pay for the cleanup. But the proposed budget reduces its enforcement and remedial components by 45 percent, bringing it to $221 million from $404 million.

E.P.A. officials call Brownfields, a program that helps towns and cities redevelop former industrial sites, one of the agency’s most popular programs. The E.P.A. website still lists its success stories: refashioning an old textile mill in Hickory, N.C., into a retail, dining and event space, and redeveloping former factory sites on the banks of Iowa’s Cedar River into riverfront condominiums. Funding to states under the Brownfields program is set for a reduction of 30 percent, to $33 million from $48 million.

Endocrine disrupters

The exact science behind, and health consequences of, a class of chemicals called endocrine disrupters remains unsettled. With the proposed cuts to research at the E.P.A., it could stay that way.

The budget eliminates a $6 million research and screening effort targeting the chemicals, which are found widely in pesticides, plastics, shampoos and cosmetics, cash register receipts, food can linings and other products. The chemicals have been linked to breast cancer in women and hypospadias, a birth defect in boys.

Ending the program, which would result in the loss of nine jobs, would curtail the agency’s ability to review medical data and work with environmental lawyers to fashion an agency response.

Climate protection

It is no surprise that the new E.P.A. is targeting climate change initiatives, given the Trump administration’s hostility toward the science of global warming and a pro-business bent. But many of the programs that fall under the $70 million Climate Protection Program — which would be eliminated under the White House proposal — are industry favorites.

Take the Energy Star program for energy-efficient televisions, washers, dryers, lights and other consumer goods. Companies say Energy Star helps give their products a competitive edge, and also helps them sell overseas, where the standard has been adopted by the European Union, Japan, Australia and Canada, among major markets.

And the SmartWay program works with logistics companies to make their operations more climate friendly. SmartWay helps trucking companies fit their trucks with aerodynamic flaps and low-resistance tires, for example, that save fuel and reduce emissions.

Federal vehicle and fuels standards

It has been barely a year since Volkswagen agreed to pay as much as $14.7 billion to settle claims stemming from its diesel emissions cheating scandal, and the E.P.A. has accused a second automaker, Fiat Chrysler, of evading emissions standards. But the proposed budget cuts would all but eliminate the $48.7 million federal budget for vehicle tests and certification.

The budget foresees getting automakers themselves to pay for testing through fees. But that takes time to set up, and any funding shortfall in the meantime would mean a significant paring back of the work at E.P.A.’s emissions testing labs.

Nonpoint source grants

The Trump administration has declared its intent to roll back business-killing regulations. But the second-biggest item eliminated from the proposed budget, after the Great Lakes Restoration project, exists precisely because federal regulations do not cover all pollutants.

The $165 million Nonpoint Source Grant program helps states deal with pollutants from sources that are not directly regulated under the Clean Water Act — like the phosphorus that flows into Lake Erie from fertilizer, which feeds algae and weeds that starve the water of oxygen, harming fish and other wildlife.

Among other remedies, the nonpoint source grants have been used to help states create “buffer strips” — areas of thick vegetation that help filter the contaminated runoff. The proposed budget would eliminate the grants.

Radiation protection and response preparedness

When the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis in Japan sent radioactive plumes across the Pacific, the E.P.A.’s RadNet system monitored the fallout on America’s shores, deploying additional air monitors in Alaska and Hawaii and ordering accelerated samplings of rain, tap water and milk.

Over the next two months, laboratory analyses detected very low amounts of iodine and other radionuclides across the country. Levels remained far below the safety threshold, and the E.P.A. determined that no action was needed. But in the case of another nuclear accident, RadNet could help officials make science-based decisions on how to protect the public.

The proposed budget would defund the agency’s $3.3 million Radiation Protectionprogram and eliminate 60 jobs. It would also remove four jobs from the Radiation Response Preparedness program; despite those job cuts, funding for that modest program would increase by $177,000, to just over $500,0000, to be used for “essential preparedness work only.”