Trump's budget cuts funding for Superfund sites, clean air and water programs

The cuts followed through on Trump’s promise to significantly reduce the agency.

May 23, 2017, 5:53 PM

— -- The budget released by the White House today follows through on President Trump’s campaign trail promise to drastically reduce the size of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The new budget plan cuts 31 percent of the agency’s funding overall, including significant reductions to research programs and enforcement of clean air and clean water programs.

Environmental research faces one of the largest cuts; Trump’s budget proposes cutting almost half of the research budget, or $234 million.

OMB Director Mick Mulvaney said the Obama administration put too much emphasis on the environmental programs, citing a National Science Foundation-produced educational musical about climate change. He questioned whether that was a good use of taxpayer money.

"Do we target it? Sure. Do a lot of the EPA reductions aim at reducing the focus on climate science? Yes. Does it mean that we are anti-science? Absolutely not," Mulvaney said during a briefing on Tuesday. "We're simply trying to get things back in order to where we can look at the folks who pay taxes and say, 'Look, we want to do some climate science, but we're not going to do the crazy stuff the previous administration did."

The proposal cuts more than $129 million -- or 23 percent -- from enforcement across all EPA programs, including programs that support clean air and clean water, which the Trump administration has said it will protect. The budget says some of the enforcement will be delegated to the states.

But advocates say a cut of this magnitude could cripple the EPA and the states won’t be able to pick up the slack.

"It’s pretty much not a surgical strike, it’s more like a machete chop to most of the major body parts at EPA and most of the other agencies that are supposed to be protecting public health. So we’re very concerned," said Erik Olson, director of public health for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Olson said cutting enforcement programs could directly affect public health. He noted that EPA uncovered the extent of the lead issue in Flint, Michigan, and has been tasked with investigating cases of pesticide poisoning in California, among many other issues

"Already enforcement is pretty lax and we’re very worried that, essentially, it will disappear entirely," Olson said.

The proposal explains cuts to enforcement with the following statement, "The Budget allows the agency to maintain a core enforcement oversight role to ensure a consistent and effective program, but eliminates duplication of enforcement actions carried out by the States, and focuses Federal enforcement efforts in those States that do not have delegated authority."

The proposed budget also eliminates funding for regional programs that provide grants to protect areas like the Great Lakes or Gulf of Mexico.

"EPA will encourage states, tribes, and communities to continue to make progress from within core EPA program funding," EPA said in a statement on Tuesday.

Another area facing substantial cuts in the president’s EPA budget is cleanup for Superfund sites. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has promised a renewed focus on cleaning up of contaminated sites as part of his "Back 2 Basics" agenda. A press release today promises $342 million in appropriated funds to support state and local cleanup.

But the proposed budget also eliminates $330 million from accounts earmarked to clean up contaminated sites. Those accounts do not hold federally appropriated funds, but cash settlements reached with the "potentially responsible parties."

Unlike several other federal agencies, including the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior, the EPA did not hold a conference call with reporters to discuss the budget. In a statement the EPA said that the budget aims to reduce redundant spending and inefficient programs.

"The President’s budget respects the American taxpayer," said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. "This budget supports EPA’s highest priorities with federal funding for priority work in infrastructure, air and water quality, and ensuring the safety of chemicals in the marketplace."