By John Walke, Natural Resources Defense Council
President Trump is planning the most extreme and reckless budget attack on the enforcement of clean air, clean water and environmental protections in the nation’s history. Trump administration sources tell reporters that the White House plans to slash the U.S. EPA’s total budget by 25%. It is crucial to understand, however, the actual cuts to EPA health and environmental programs would be 43% or even higher based on a dirty little secret about EPA’s budget: more than 40% of EPA’s budget goes to states in the form of grants. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has said it is as high as 50%. Pruitt and key congressmen have indicated their intention to protect those grants from cuts. So the budget blade would fall on EPA’s core budget, resulting in much deeper cuts as a percentage of that remaining budget.
Cutting the core EPA budgets for health and environmental programs by 40-50% would eliminate funding for the following EPA programs: clean air and climate change; clean water—including drinking water, surface water, water ecosystems, marine pollution, beaches and fish; toxics; pesticides; hazardous waste; Superfund; oil spills and leaking underground storage tanks; indoor air and radon; ozone layer; radiation; civil enforcement and criminal enforcement.
The president’s advisor, Steve Bannon, proclaimed at a gathering of conservative activists last week that one of the Trump administration’s central goals was “deconstruction of the administrative state.” In other words, the Trump administration’s aim is to blow up the American system for upholding or enforcing U.S. laws. Bannon added that the president’s Cabinet appointees were “selected for a reason and that is the deconstruction.” At EPA this campaign of destruction will be executed by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, with his open disdain for the agency he heads and his agreement that calls to eliminate EPA entirely are “justified.”
The White House selectively released a proposal this week to boost defense spending by $54 billion, then suggested that EPA’s budget needed to be cut in order to increase defense spending. That suggestion is false. It is cynical misdirection. The Trump administration’s extreme attack on EPA’s budget should be seen for what it is: a deliberate effort to take the environmental cop off the beat, to fire scientists and health experts, in order to help industrial polluters at the expense of Americans’ health, America’s communities and a sustainable environment.
EPA’s Budget by the Numbers
EPA’s total budget in fiscal year 2016 was $8.14 billion. The agency employed 15,376 persons. Based on a projected U.S. federal budget of $4.0 trillion in 2017, EPA’s budget represents 0.2 % of the total federal budget. (Spoiler alert: it’s actually even less than that. Keep reading.)
Trump Administration Attack on EPA’s Budget: A 25% Cut?
The White House is proposing to slash EPA’s budget by 25%, cutting $2.035 billion from EPA’s total $8.14 billion budget. This “savings” represents a mere 0.05% of the total federal budget.
But Wait, It’s Much Worse Than That: Actually a 43% Cut—or Higher
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has said he supports maintaining EPA grant levels to states, and a congressional Republican budget chair recently announced the lack of any intention to cut EPA grants to states. That reveals the dirty little secret behind the incorrectly reported, misunderstood “25% EPA budget cut” by the Trump administration.
EPA gives grants to state, local and tribal governments that made up a remarkable 42% of EPA’s total budget in FY2015. So the EPA’s actual core budget that remains is $4.7 billion—a mere 0.12% of the total federal budget. Shielding state grants from budget cuts would mean that a “25% EPA budget cut” is actually a 43% cut to the core EPA budget remaining to carry out and enforce the nation’s health and environmental laws.
This means the Trump administration budget cuts would reduce EPA’s core budget to $2.665 billion. That figure represents 0.067% of the total U.S. federal budget.
How Does That Compare to Other U.S. Federal Government Spending?
Total defense spending by the U.S. government is projected to be $853.6 billion in fiscal year 2017. That represents 21.34% of the total federal budget, compared to the core EPA budget representing 0.067% of the federal budget. Defense spending is 182 times higher than the core EPA budget.
How Would a 43% or Greater Budget Cut Impact EPA’s Ability to Uphold Clean Air And Clean Water Protections for Americans?
As we have seen, a 43% budget cut would eliminate $2.035 billion from current funds available to uphold and enforce U.S. health and environmental laws, pay agency employees, lease buildings, and do all the things required to carry out the legal responsibilities directed by Congress under federal law.
I looked to the detailed budget sub-categories under EPA’s “Environmental Programs & Management” in the FY2015 budget as enacted, the most recent one with detailed breakouts. (Total funding for EPA’s FY2015 enacted budget is identical to the FY2016 enacted budget.) “Environmental Programs & Management” are where EPA funds the health and environmental programs that carry out the EPA’s mission. Specific budget-categories break out expenditures by topic, for example, clean air & climate and water.
Cutting $2.035 billion from EPA’s “Environmental Programs & Management” would eliminate all funding for the following EPA programs:
- Clean Air & Climate ($273 million);
- Indoor Air & Radiation ($27.6 million);
- Water: Human Health, Water Quality & Ecosystem Protections ($356.2 million)
- Civil Enforcement & Criminal Enforcement ($217.5 million);
- Compliance Monitoring ($101.6 million);
- Environmental Justice ($6.7 million);
- Pesticides Licensing ($102 million);
- Hazardous Waste Corrective Action, Management, Minimization and Recycling ($104.8 million);
- Toxics Risk Review & Prevention ($92.5 million);
- Superfund Cleanup ($711 million);
- Leaking Underground Storage Tanks ($9 million); and
- Oil Spills ($18 million).
The costs for these core health and environmental programs total approximately $2.02 billion and the Trump administration budget would eliminate $2.035 billion from EPA’s core budget.
Any budget cut of this extreme magnitude would eviscerate EPA’s ability and responsibility to protect Americans and our communities from dangerous pollution. This radical budget would sabotage EPA’s duty to uphold and enforce U.S. health and environmental laws.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt did an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer yesterday about the reported 25% cut to EPA’s budget. First, Pruitt tellingly did not deny the 25% figure. Next, Pruitt said that “half of the EPA budget is grant-related” and he vowed that the EPA grants to states “were very important to protect.” This prompted the obvious question from Blitzer, “But that’s 50% of the budget, so where will the cuts come from if they want to eliminate 25% of the EPA budget?”
Pruitt actually stammered in response. He did not answer the question. He would not answer the question. Instead, he deflected by saying “This is the beginning of the process, not the end of the process.”
There it was, a few hours before the president’s address to Congress: the Big Lie of the “25% EPA budget cut” revealed, called out and confirmed on live TV. Kudos to Blitzer for nailing it.
Public Support for EPA’s Mission
61% of Americans want EPA to be “strengthened or expanded” (39%) or “remain the same” (22%), according to a January 2017 Reuters/Ipsos poll. 47% of Republicans supported strengthening, expanding or keeping EPA’s role the same.
Blowing Up Health, Safety and Environmental Protections
In his address to Congress last night, Professor Trump expressed a desire to “to promote clean air and clean water, and to rebuild our military and our infrastructure.” Whether intended this way or not, packaging those items together in one sentence was master class trolling of EPA and the American people. The White House plans to decimate the budget of the agency tasked with ensuring clean air and clean water, while administration aides portray those cuts, cynically and wrongly, as a means to help pay for massive increases in defense spending. The Trump administration wants to deplete resources from the nation’s environmental law enforcer, whose core budget makes up 0.067% of total federal spending, while increasing by $54 billion a portion of federal spending that is already over 21%.
The Trump administration budget attack on health and environmental safeguards is radical and unprecedented. It effectively carries out President Trump’s campaign threat to destroy EPA and leave “little bits of it” behind.
Americans do not support this extremism. A majority of the president’s own supporters reject this radical turn. Only Congress has the power to reject or accept a budget proposed by the president. Congress must not allow such pro-polluter zealotry to obstruct Americans’ right to clean air and clean water. Congress should reject the extreme Trump EPA budget emphatically.
No one should breathe a sigh of relief, however, if the White House’s shocking cuts are “moderated” by the Administration or the Congress as the appropriations process goes forward. Even a 10 or 20 percent cut in EPA’s core budget would do incalculable damage. No politician should get away with saying “at least we didn’t wipe EPA off the face of the earth.” Even from politicians suffering dismal and record-low approval ratings with the public, that is a bar far too low for Americans to accept.