The Trump administration has been sharpening its budgetary ax for two years, waiting for the chance to chop away at funding for environmental protection and clean energy programs that had been darlings of the previous administration.
Late Wednesday, it was another swing and a miss for the White House.
The tentative $1.3 trillion deal to fund the federal government reached this week by congressional leaders forestalled drastic cuts to programs at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Department that the Trump administration demanded in its latest budget request to Congress.
For Democrats who sought preserve energy and environmental programs held over from the Obama administration, the spending package represents a victory — at least until the next budget negotiation.
“Together, we rejected the Trump administration’s proposal to make massive and dangerous budget cuts,” Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, the top Democrat on the Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the EPA and related agencies, said in a statement Wednesday.
Even before Trump's election, many Republicans agitated for deep cuts into offices constricting companies with environmental rules and spending money on alternative energy research they regard as wasteful. For them, the budget deal kicks the can down the road.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), leader of the House Freedom Caucus, slammed the entire deal, saying that “wins for conservatives will be few and far between.”
In general, the spending bill faces opposition from many fiscal conservatives in the GOP but is unlikely to be derailed given its support among moderate Democrats and Republicans.
The bill freezes funding for the EPA at $8.1 billion, the same amount the agency was given for fiscal 2017, whereas last month the Trump administration called for a more than 23 percent cut to the agency.
The bill preserves money for several programs targeted by the Trump administration, including full funding for the EPA’s state and regional grants, although overall funding for EPA regulatory programs was reduced by $23.5 million below current levels.
The package also protects EPA staff, including scientists, from requested funding for large-scale buyouts, Udall's office said, though even without that money EPA chief Scott Pruitt was able to reduce staffing levels by 650 positions last year.
Lawmakers also boosted by $66 million appropriations for cleaning up Superfund sites, one of Pruitt's often stated priorities.
Energy programs within the Energy Department will get a $1.6 billion boost to a total of $12.9 billion in funding. Congress will increase funding for the department's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, an energy technology nursery that the department's head Rick Perry called "impressive" and “simply a preview of our possibilities” last week, by $47 million for a total of $353 million. For two years in a row, the White House had called for eliminating the agency.
Another part of the department targeted by Trump for heavy cuts, the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, received $2.3 billion, or about a 14 percent increase in funding from current levels. The Trump administration wanted to cut funding for renewable energy and energy efficiency programs by nearly three-fourths.
In recent days, lawmakers have rallied to protect these energy programs. Just before the release of the spending bill, a group of 110 House lawmakers argued against proposed cuts to EERE while earlier this week 86 lawmakers released another letter calling for “strong funding” for ARPA-E.
“It’s been a long time coming but Congress got it right with this bill by maintaining or increasing funding for energy efficiency programs despite the dramatic cuts proposed by the administration,” said Ben Evans, vice president of government affairs and communications for the nonprofit group Alliance to Save Energy.
The bill would also boost money for national parks by about 8 percent, including a roughly $150 million increase to address the National Park Service's $11.6 billion maintenance backlog. Kristen Brengel, vice president for government affairs for the National Parks Conservation Association, touted the bill for providing funding "just as the National Park Service is preparing for another busy summer travel season."
Democrats also thwarted riders that would have blocked the EPA from enforcing Obama-era methane emissions rules, rescinded the Waters of the United States rule restricting farm runoff and other pollution from going into streams, and removed gray wolves in Wyoming and around the Great Lakes from the endangered species list.
Other riders slid their way into the bill, including one exempting farmers of livestock farms from EPA greenhouse gas regulations and another prohibiting the regulation of lead in ammunition and fishing tackle.
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— Another winner in the budget battle was Sen. Dean Heller. The Nevada Republican, who is up in a tough reelection race this November, blocked the Trump administration's efforts to store nuclear waste in the state’s Yucca Mountain. “The ads write themselves,” The Post’s James Hohmann writes in The Daily 202.
NEW: Photos obtained by @ABC show EPA head Scott Pruitt deplaning a plane chartered from the military at JFK last June. Pruitt flew the government aircraft from Cincinnati, where he attended an event with Pres. Trump. https://t.co/3lNd3zUJgz pic.twitter.com/7ZYxEDyE3L— ABC News (@ABC) March 21, 2018
— Pruitt’s pricey travel: A photo of EPA chief Scott Pruitt published by ABC News on Wednesday shows him deplaning a military plane at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York in June 2017. Last summer, the agency approved Pruitt's purchase of a $36,000 flight on a military plane from Cincinnati to New York on his way to Italy for the G-7 environmental summit, ABC News reports.
— Zinke too: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke brought his security detail on a vacation he and his wife took to Greece and Turkey last year. Politico reports the documents that show details of Zinke’s travel “do not reveal exactly how many security personnel accompanied the couple, who paid for them, how much they cost or whether they traveled with Zinke and his wife, Lola, for the entire trip.” Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift said the security team traveled with the secretary because of concerns of violence in the region where they were traveling.
— The long fight to save the methane rule: A group of Western lawmakers led by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) sent a letter to Zinke calling for public hearings and an extended comment period on the repeal of the Bureau of Land Management’s methane rule. “Waste of taxpayer-owned natural gas is a significant fiscal issue on public and tribal lands," they wrote. "We call on BLM to address this problem by maintaining the 2016 methane waste rule."
Congress has shown particular interest in preserving this Obama-era rule, with Senate Democrats narrowly and unexpectedly defeating a measure to repeal it last year with the help of Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and John McCain (Arizona).
— Cycle crisis: The libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute is calling on Rick Perry to roll back energy efficiency standards for dishwashers that are causing them to take hours to clean dishes. “It used to take you only an hour to get a full load of dishes washed and dried in your dishwasher,” Sam Kazman, the group's general counsel, said in a statement. “Today, thanks to federal energy efficiency standards, the average time is nearly 2.5 hours.”
— Courtroom turned classroom on climate: A federal judge in California on Wednesday held the nation's first-ever hearing on the science of climate change, according to McClatchy. U.S. District Judge William Alsup called on both sides of lawsuit between Bay Area cities and the world’s top oil companies over damages from sea-level rise to present him a “tutorial” on the science during the hearing,
Meanwhile, prominent climate deniers attempted to include their views in Wednesday’s hearing by filing “friend of the court” briefs, InsideClimate News reports. The judge told the groups who filed the briefs to “file a statement by the close of business on Tuesday declaring who paid for their research, whether they received support from anyone ‘on either side of the climate debate,’ and whether any of them were ‘affiliated in any way (directly or indirectly)’ with parties to the litigation.”
— Bad news for the climate: Coal burning, and carbon emissions, are on the rise again, according to new data released by the International Energy Agency on Wednesday. "After three flat years that had hinted at a possible environmental breakthrough, carbon dioxide emissions from the use of energy rose again by 1.4 percent in 2017," reports The Post's Chris Mooney. The emissions uptick came as the world economy grew and nations demanded more energy — from not just fossil fuels, but renewables as well.
— The beef with beef: A new study found 20 percent of U.S. eaters account for nearly half of the total diet-related greenhouse gas emissions in the country, and beef eaters are a main contributor. "If those people consumed fewer calories and shifted to a more moderate diet with less beef," InsideClimate News reports, "that could achieve almost 10 percent of the emissions reductions needed for the U.S. to meet its targets under the Paris climate agreement, the researchers found."
— A way of life in Canada is melting: The warming climate is causing outdoor skating rinks in Canada to melt, straining a part of the country’s cultural identity, the New York Times reports. Rink Watch, a citizen-created project that reports on skating conditions from 1,500 rink owners, is collecting relevant data while “Canadian officials are coming to grips with the implications of climate change for their open-air town rinks."
— California's disastrous year continues: Battered by a record fire season that contributed to disastrous mudslides, Southern California is now bracing for what's expected to be the worst rainstorm of the year. “The most powerful rainstorm of the year is expected to deliver a direct hit to areas burned in the Thomas fire, bringing with it fears of new destructive mudslides,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “Authorities have ordered about 21,000 residents in Santa Barbara County to flee, marking the sixth evacuation since December for some.”
On the WEST COAST....moisture is seen streaming in from the Pacific Ocean - here's a view from your #GOESEast satellite this morning. Several inches of rain are expected, which will likely lead to debris flows and flooding! https://t.co/VyWINDk3xP 💧💧💧💧 pic.twitter.com/lkXzEk7pFr— NWS (@NWS) March 21, 2018
— Oil and gas leases in Gulf of Mexico bring in relatively tepid bids: Energy companies paid more than $124 million for oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico in the largest-ever lease sale, The Post’s Steve Mufson reports. But the totals – oil companies bid on 148 blocks, or just 1 percent of those put up for sale -- fell short of previous sales. Mufson adds: “The totals also appeared modest compared with the expectations raised by President Trump in his ‘America-First Offshore Energy Strategy’ that was aimed at substantially enhancing the nation’s ‘energy dominance.’"
— Pennsylvania’s path to cutting coal emissions: A new regulatory approach allowed coal-fired power plants in Pennsylvania to cut emissions in half while the plants continued to run efficiently. the Wall Street Journal reports. “The rule, which took effect in January 2017, lowered the rate at which power plants and other sources can emit [nitrogen oxides.] For power plants, it requires use of a potentially costly pollution control, in which ammonia is injected to reduce NOx, but only during times of high power usage, when the method is most cost-effective."
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on the 2018 Western Water Supply Outlook and Bills Related to Water Infrastructure and Drought Resiliency.
- The American Enterprise Institute holds an event on the future of infrastructure policy under Trump.
- USTR Robert Lighthizer will testify before the Senate Finance Committee on the president’s 2018 trade policy agenda.
- The Wilson Center holds an event on “Linking China’s Domestic and Global Energy Ambitions"
- Berkeley’s Energy Institute at Haas holds its annual POWER Conference on Energy Research and Policy on Friday.
— First snow: A group of eighth graders from Hawaii experienced their first snow and snowball fight outside the White House yesterday.