If you’ve followed President Trump’s campaign for president, little should surprise you about the budget cut he is proposing for the Environment Protection Agency.
Yet the president's budget set to be delivered at 11 a.m. will show the largest cuts to the EPA of any federal agency. Trump will call for the agency's budget to be reduced to just $5.65 billion.
What’s notable here is what has not changed. When the Trump administration released its “skinny budget,” or first draft of its spending priorities, in March, it called for the EPA funding to be slashed by 31 percent.
Two months later, that percentage is unchanged.
What Trump’s newest, more detailed budget proposal shows is that Trump and other administration officials have not been dissuaded by political pressure from environmentalists and Democrats calling to protect funding for the top U.S. environmental agency for the past two months.
Many lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, described that March budget proposal as a first step. So far, Trump has shown he has no desire to move from where he has planted his feet.
Or as S. William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, told my colleagues Brady Dennis and Juliet Eilperin: “You would think they would have learned something from these trial balloons. Instead, they’re doubling down. They just don’t care about the reaction.”
Congress ignored Trump’s skinny budget when it put together the omnibus spending package at the beginning of this month, leaving EPA funding mostly untouched and saving the fight for environmental funding for another day (though that bill was in the works long before the election). In response, Trump has chosen to ignore Congress when drafting his latest proposal.
But Trump will need every Republican senator -- plus a few members from the other side of the aisle -- to break Democrats’ 60-vote filibuster. Capitol Hill Democrats are already voicing strong dissent:
Cutting Medicaid, opioid treatment, EPA, hungry kids meals. All to find "savings" they can send to Wall Street. This budget is radical.— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) May 22, 2017
The budget’s #TrumpCuts at EPA will negatively impact:— Rep. Hank Johnson (@RepHankJohnson) May 22, 2017
-the AIR we breathe
-the WATER we drink
-the CLIMATE we leave our kids
Of course, these Democrats don't control Congress. And conservatives are excited about what they see as a historic chance to rollback one of their longest-standing bogeymen:
Here's what Pruitt told electric-power CEOs yesterday:
Today I shared my vision for how EPA & the electric power industry should work together to achieve energy independence with industry CEOs. pic.twitter.com/kGspmhxELI— Administrator Pruitt (@EPAScottPruitt) May 22, 2017
Even so, Trump has not been particularly swayed by members of his own party who will be key to passing the budget.
Republicans are broadly on board with the Trump agenda of reducing the role of the EPA. Yet Trump's budget continues to take aim at regional EPA programs that have broad bipartisan support.
Take the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, under which the EPA seeks to work with the states and Canada to restore degraded lakeshore areas. Prominent Republicans in the Midwest came out in droves to support the program after Trump called for its elimination in March.
Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.): “I think it makes sense for us to continue to make prudent investments in protecting and improving the Great Lakes.”
Gov. Rick Synder (R-Mich.): “There is strong support among Michigan’s congressional delegation and we will work with them to preserve the funding.”
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio): “I have long championed this program, and I’m committed to continuing to do everything I can to protect and preserve Lake Erie, including preserving this critical program and its funding.”
And yet here we are in May seeing Trump, again, calling for its elimination. This is just one regional restoration program Trump is asking to ax. On the chopping block are programs for Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound -- regions with, of course, their own congressional delegations and political clout. These regional programs are likely to be one of the first bargaining chips traded when Congress votes on the budget in the fall.
Many congressional Republican despise what the EPA, with its emphasis on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, became under President Obama. So given that the GOP controls Congress, there will be cuts to the EPA. In places, they will be deep. They will not be as numerous as Trump seeks today.
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-- Berlin to Washington: Stay in Paris. European countries see the G-7 summit, which begins in Italy on Friday, as perhaps their last chance to convince Trump to stay in the landmark climate accord.
Sophie Yeo reports: "The Trump administration risks causing 'lasting damage' to relations with key European allies if the United States abandons the Paris climate agreement, a key German official has warned. Shortly before Trump is due to join G-7 leaders for a summit in Sicily, Germany’s environment minister, Barbara Hendricks, said in a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt that the U.S. would face serious repercussions if it chooses to leave the landmark deal... 'I am very concerned that a U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement would cause lasting damage to the long-standing mutual trust and close cooperation between our two countries and between the U.S. and other countries in Europe and elsewhere,' Hendricks wrote in the May 5 letter.
-- On Sunday, ExxonMobil penned a deal with Saudi Arabia's state-owned manufacturer to build a petrochemical plant in Texas.
Probably not coincidentally, the announcement is timed with a visit by President Trump and other administration officials, including Rex Tillerson, to the kingdom.
We've seen similar coordination between the company and the White House before. Flashback to March: "The White House and ExxonMobil were in sync Monday. Some might even call it a mind meld. In a news release, ExxonMobil highlighted the oil giant’s plan to spend $20 billion over 10 years, build 11 chemical and natural-gas projects and create 45,000 jobs. Within the same hour, the White House put out its own statement claiming credit for the expansion and adding, 'The spirit of optimism sweeping the country is already boosting job growth, and it is only the beginning.' One full paragraph appeared nearly identically word for word in each release. Another sentence appeared almost verbatim elsewhere."
The deal between Exxon and the kingdom-controlled manufacturer, Saudi Arabia Basic Industries Corporation, was one of several between the Saudis and U.S. firms, including General Electric and Lockheed Martin, announced over the weekend.
President Trump on the deals, according to Bloomberg: “Tremendous investments. Hundreds of billions of dollars of investments into the United States and jobs, jobs, jobs.”
In the case of Exxon-SABIC plant specifically, it's 12,000 full-time jobs, according to the news release.
-- Here's another proposal, like the EPA budget, that may run into some headwinds in Congress. Steven Mufson and Chris Mooney report: "As part of its 2018 budget, the Trump administration is proposing to reduce by half the size of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, a cushion against global price shocks and supply disruptions. The administration said it expects the draw down to reduce the federal deficit by $16.6 billion, part of a package of deficit reduction measures over the next 10 years. The proposal probably will run into sharp differences in Congress and among oil experts, most of whom say that the reserve should remain a buffer in an emergency. As of May 12, the reserve had 688.1 million barrels, equal to about 141 days of net imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products."
-- In an interview with my colleague Steven Mufson, the chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell CEO Ben van Beurden reiterates his belief in climate change...
We believe that climate change is real. We believe that the threat of climate change is real. And we believe that action is needed. It doesn’t mean we have to kiss hydrocarbons goodbye. In fact, we can’t. But it does mean that we have to make more intelligent choices.
...but is more than happy to see the Trump administration emphasis on deregulation...
It will take some time before the policy contours become very clear. More philosophically what you could say is that this administration is clearly keen to improve the investment climate in the United States, certainly for energy.
-- As Trump sharpens his budget ax, a former Obama administration official makes a pointed case for keeping the lights on at the Energy Department.
Teryn Norris, a former special adviser to Obama Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, argues in a much-talked-about piece in Greentech Media that the U.S. has the "tools necessary to end the fossil fuel age." What are they?
- Ever cheaper solar technology
- Ever cheaper battery technology
- Existing fleets of nuclear and hydroelectric power plants.
His proposal in a sentence: Accelerate the downward costs of #1 and #2 with more government-funded research and development while maintaining #3.
Or as Norris himself summarizes (better than me) on Twitter:
@greentechmedia 3) The central point is that after 70 years of investment, we now have the tools to end the fossil fuel age. Energy endgame is in sight.— Tyler Norris (Teryn) (@tylerhnorris) May 18, 2017
@greentechmedia 4) This is still unbelievable to some. It was to me for yrs. I thought big expansion of nuclear & carbon capture was essential. No longer.— Tyler Norris (Teryn) (@tylerhnorris) May 18, 2017
@greentechmedia 5) I developed this view as head of S&P Global Platts/PIRA’s tech forecast; colleagues including Exxon's fmr chief economist couldn’t refute— Tyler Norris (Teryn) (@tylerhnorris) May 18, 2017
@greentechmedia 6) Solar on track to be world’s cheapest power source. Storage costs plummeting. By 2030s or sooner, stored PV will be cheap as gas power.— Tyler Norris (Teryn) (@tylerhnorris) May 18, 2017
@greentechmedia 7) Stationary storage could get even cheaper – dirt cheap – as tidal wave of 2nd-life electric vehicle batteries hit market in late 2020s.— Tyler Norris (Teryn) (@tylerhnorris) May 18, 2017
Here's some more news on the renewables beat:
-- Yesterday, I reported that the Department of Interior asked for a line about climate change to be removed from a press release promoting a study on sea-level rise.
The deletion of the line -- "Global climate change drives sea-level rise, increasing the frequency of coastal flooding" -- was, in the context of a roughly 800-word press release, small but, according to the scientists who wrote the study, telling.
- Chip Fletcher, a University of Hawaii professor: “It did not cause any direct inaccuracy, but it did eliminate an important connection to be made by the reader — that global warming is causing sea-level rise.”
- Neil Frazer, also at the University of Hawaii: "It’s a crime against the American people. Because scientists have known for at least 50 years that anthropogenic climate change is a reality."
The U.S. Geological Survey, which drafted the press release, responded by saying that because climate change causing sea levels to rise is not a new finding, it did not need to be said again.
But one thing we do keep finding out is that risk of sea-level rise appears to be getting worse. As Chris Mooney reports: "A new scientific analysis finds that the Earth’s oceans are rising nearly three times as rapidly as they were throughout most of the 20th century, one of the strongest indications yet that a much feared trend of not just sea level rise, but its acceleration, is now underway."
The administration’s budget will be released at 11 a.m.
The House’s Science, Space, and Technology’s Environment subcommittee is meeting on “expanding the Role of States in EPA Rulemaking.” Deborah Swackhamer, the chairwoman of EPA's Board of Scientific Counselors and an environmental health sciences professor at the University of Minnesota, will testify.
The House Committee on Natural Resources is holding two hearings Tuesday, one on a set of bills regarding federal lands and another on “the status and future of the Cobell Land Consolidation Program.”
The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works is holding hearings to discuss air quality, including the possible delayed implementation of the Clean Air Act’s air standards established in 2015.
Later this week:
OPEC will meet in Vienna on Thursday to discuss oil production limits following its decision to pull 1.8 million barrels a day from the market, which went into effect earlier this year.
The Senate will hold a hearing Thursday on Dan R. Brouillette’s nomination as deputy energy secretary.
The Trump administration’s stance on the Paris climate change agreement will almost certainly come up during his G-7 heads of state meetings, which begin Friday.
On Monday, a sinkhole opened up outside Mar-a-Lago. I'm not going to make a joke about it. Many, many other people have already done that job for me.
What I will say is that, if sea-level-rise projections are any indication, Trump can't outrun the water at Mar-a-Lago. Same goes for other residents of Palm Beach County in Florida.
As ProPublica reported in March: "Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, where he has spent about half of his weekends since taking office, is among the most vulnerable properties in the county. Most of the resort could be underwater by 2100, and the lowest areas already flood during certain tides."
Here's a GIF from BuzzFeed News projecting how the ocean may swallow Mar-a-Lago: