Trump eyeing 24% cut to EPA budget — source

Source: Robin Bravender, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Trump administration is pushing for a 24 percent overall cut to U.S. EPA’s budget, according to a source informed about the administration’s plans.

The White House today sent its budget blueprint to federal agencies, which includes cuts for most non-defense entities. The EPA outline, the source said, would trim nearly $2 billion from EPA’s current budget of about $8.1 billion.

The lengthy budget negotiation process will include feedback from the agencies and back-and-forth with Congress. It’s unclear whether lawmakers would sign off on such dramatic EPA cuts, but the Republican-led Congress has shown an appetite for scaling back the agency. A $2 billion reduction in EPA’s budget would cut the agency’s spending to levels not seen since the early 1990s.

EPA spokesman Doug Ericksen said today he couldn’t confirm that the White House had asked EPA for a 24 percent cut.

Trump’s plans to slash spending across most agencies will become clearer in a few weeks, when the White House submits its final budget blueprint to Congress.

White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told reporters today the administration intends to send its so-called skinny budget to Congress by March 16. The first submission will serve as an outline, offering top-line numbers for beefing up defense spending while scaling back spending at most federal agencies. The administration’s plans are widely expected to cut environmental and energy programs across the government.

Mulvaney stressed that this blueprint is “not a full-blown budget.” The White House today is sending its broad proposals out to federal agencies, which will include recommendations from OMB about how it thinks the agencies can make cuts to reach those targets. In the process known as “passback,” agencies will scour the proposals and send their ideas back to OMB. The process is kicking off as some agencies — including the Interior and Energy departments — don’t yet have Senate-confirmed leaders in place.

“A review from agencies are due back to OMB over the course of the next couple days, and we’ll spend the next week or so working on a final budget blueprint,” Mulvaney said. The plan to send those numbers to Congress by mid-March “puts us on schedule for a full budget … with all the larger policy issues in the first part of May.”

The White House’s top-line proposal for defense spending is $603 billion — a $54 billion increase, Mulvaney said. Meanwhile, the proposal for non-defense spending will be $462 billion — a $54 billion savings, he added.

“It’s the largest proposed reduction since the early years of the Reagan administration.”

Mulvaney called Trump’s proposal a “true America-first budget.”

“It will show,” Mulvaney said, “the president is keeping his promises and doing exactly what he said he was going to do when he ran for office.”

For hints about which energy and environmental programs might be on the chopping block, sources close to the Trump administration have pointed to the sweeping budget outlines laid out by conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, Republican Study Committee and Competitive Enterprise Institute. Those groups have offered up an array of programs at agencies like EPA and the Energy Department that they would like to see cut (Greenwire, Jan. 27).

Stephen Moore, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation who was an economic adviser to Trump during the presidential campaign, said today he’s expecting to see cuts at EPA and DOE.

“I think the Energy Department is one of the departments that’s going to be in for some of the most significant cuts,” he said. Subsidies for wind and solar energy are likely to be “subject to some very significant reductions.”

“The energy conservation stuff is on the chopping block,” he added. “You don’t need the government to encourage people to conserve energy, they can do that on their own.”

It’s unclear whether some of DOE’s defense-related spending may offset cuts to other department programs.

As for EPA, Moore said, “I do think there will be some cuts. The EPA grew significantly under Obama, especially because there’s going to be a bigger emphasis on moving a lot of the environmental enforcement and activities to state level rather than federal level.”

The expected cuts have already prompted outrage from green groups.

“A budget is a statement of priorities, and with this proposal, Trump is telling America he doesn’t care about what happens to children who are forced to drink toxic water and breath polluted air,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement. “Trump’s budget guts the Environmental Protection Agency — the only federal agency charged with keeping our air and water clean — starves our cherished parks, and threatens our wildlife.”

Elizabeth Thompson, vice president for climate and political affairs at the Environmental Defense Fund, said cutting EPA’s spending means “more air pollution, more asthma attacks for kids, more health problems. This isn’t about budget savings. It is about giving big polluters a license to pollute without consequences. And it goes against the wishes of the American public — 67 percent of whom think EPA should stay the same or should be strengthened.”