No agency in the federal government fared worse under Thursday’s proposed budget than the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Trump administration would slash the EPA’s budget by 31 percent, cut 3,200 of its 15,000 workers, cut funding for climate change research and Superfund cleanup and scrap more than 50 programs altogether. Among them: efforts aimed at improving energy efficiency, helping cities fight air pollution, funding infrastructure projects in Native American communities, and cleaning up the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay. Although Congress would have to approve any such cuts, Trump’s proposed kneecapping of the EPA drew swift, impassioned reactions on Thursday.
“Literally and figuratively, this is a scorched earth budget that represents an all out assault on clean air, water, and land,” Gina McCarthy, who served as EPA administrator during the final years of the Obama administration, said in a statement. “You can’t put ‘America First’ when you put the health of its people and its country last.”
The reaction from environmental advocacy groups ranged from angry to horrified.
“A giant gift to polluters and a devastating blow to the health and well-being of our children and communities across the country,” said Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen. “This dangerous proposal is designed to do one thing: cripple the agency charged with protecting the air we breathe and water we drink.”
“If such cuts are realized, many more people will die prematurely and get sick unnecessarily due to air, water and waste pollution,” said Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies.
“This is an all-out assault on the health of our planet and the health and safety of the American people,” said Fred Krupp, head of the Environmental Defense Fund. “Cleaning up our air and protecting our waters are core American values. The ‘skinny budget’ threatens those values — and puts us all at risk.”
Employees at the EPA have long known the agency had a bull’s eye on its back. As a candidate, Trump vowed to get rid of the EPA “in almost every form,” leaving only “little tidbits” intact. He also has said the environmental regulations put in place under President Obama are “a disgrace,” even while proclaiming that he values the protection of clean air and clean water. Trump’s choice to lead the agency, former Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt, has long been an adversary to EPA, arguing it overstepped its legal authority in recent years. But even he had privately argued, unsuccessfully, for less draconian cuts to the agency.
Still, some industry groups were quick to applaud the Trump administration’s efforts to downsize the EPA.
Thomas Pyle, the head of the American Energy Alliance, an advocacy group that receives funding from the fossil-fuel industry, called the budget proposal “a much-needed resetting of the relationship between the federal government, the states, and the American people.” He said the cuts at EPA, the Department of Energy and other science-focused agencies would “eliminate the architecture of President Obama’s politically motivated climate-action plan and [reemphasize] the core mission at each of these agencies.”
“EPA has become one of the most politicized agencies in the federal government, pursuing job-destroying and poverty-inducing regulations and programs,” Pyle said in a statement. “President Trump’s budget blueprint will not only eliminate wasteful spending at EPA, but will also allow the agency to return to a more constructive relationship with states and the private sector in ensuring that our air is pure and our water is clean and safe.”
The mood inside EPA headquarters in downtown Washington on Thursday was, as one agency scientist put it, “steadily somber.”
But not entirely without levity. The employee, who spoke anonymously for fear of reprisal, said several employees arrived with a flier someone was handing out in front of the EPA on Thursday morning. It included a Web address to several state agencies looking for employees in California, which has vowed to cut its greenhouse-gas emissions nearly in half over the next decade.
“Fight climate change,” the flier read. “Work for California.”