The White House is seeking to cut more than $2.5 billion from the annual budget of the Environmental Protection Agency — an overall reduction of more than 23 percent.
The fiscal 2019 proposal released Monday marks the Trump administration’s latest attempt to shrink the reach of an agency the president once promised to reduce to “little tidbits.” The EPA already has lost hundreds of employees to buyouts and retirements over the past year, and its staffing is now at Reagan-era levels.
Under the latest budget, the agency would continue to shrink in size and ambition, leaving much more of the work of environmental protection to individual states. The administration said Monday that its proposal will help “return the EPA to its core mission,” reduce “unnecessary reporting burdens on the regulated community,” and eliminate programs that “create unnecessary redundancies or those that have served their purpose and accomplished their mission.”
But environmental groups on Monday were quick to criticize the proposal, calling it a thinly veiled attempt to gut federal environmental safeguards.
“The Trump administration budget released today is a blueprint for a less healthy, more polluted America,” Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement. “A budget shows your values — and this budget shows the administration doesn’t value clean air, clean water, or protecting Americans from toxic pollution.”
The administration’s plan would cut several dozen programs altogether. Among them: funding for state radon-detection initiatives; assistance to fund water system improvements along the U.S.-Mexico border; and partnerships to monitor and restore water quality in the Gulf of Mexico, Puget Sound and other large bodies of water. Funding for the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay would fall from $72 million to $7 million, and a similar program for the Great Lakes would be cut from $300 million to $30 million — although neither would be wiped out.
The head of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation called the proposal “another assault on clean water, from a president who campaigned saying he valued it.”
“This administration says they want to partner with states, but a 90 percent budget reduction says the opposite,” William C. Baker said in a statement. “The Chesapeake Bay Program is the glue that holds the state/federal partnership together. A cut of this magnitude would severely damage Bay restoration efforts, just at a time when we are seeing significant progress.”
In addition, the Trump budget would eliminate — or very nearly eliminate — the agency’s programs related to climate change. Funding for the agency’s Office of Science and Technology would drop by more than a third, from $762 million to $489 million. And funding for prosecuting environmental crimes and for certain clean air and water programs would drop significantly.
The Superfund cleanup program, a priority of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, would not face the same draconian reductions as were proposed last year. The agency expects to use the $1 billion fund “to reduce administrative costs, identify efficiencies, and prioritize the cleanup of sites.”
The agency also would receive an additional $397 million to bolster investment in wastewater and storm water infrastructure. The White House is no longer seeking to eliminate the Energy Star program, although it would be funded entirely through fees.
The fiscal 2019 proposal comes a year after the Trump administration proposed slashing the EPA’s budget by 31 percent, as well as cutting 3,200 positions, or more than 20 percent of the agency’s workforce.
“You can’t drain the swamp and leave all the people in it. So I guess the first place that comes to mind will be the Environmental Protection Agency,” Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, told reporters at the time. “The president wants a smaller EPA. He thinks they overreach, and the budget reflects that.”