The White House is seeking to dramatically reduce the power of the Environmental Protection Agency, slashing dozens of programs and laying off 20% of the agency’s staff. The proposed budget cut plans to cut the EPA’s budget by 25% to $6.1 billion, and cut its workforce by 20% to 12,400 employees, in the 2018 fiscal year that begins 1 October. The plans require the complete elimination of EPA programs on climate change, toxic waste cleanup, environmental justice and funding for Native Alaskan villages. It would slash funding to states for clean air and water programs by 30% percent as well.
According to sources that have seen preliminary directives from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Trump administration wants to cut spending by EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) by more than 40% from roughly $510 million to $290 million.
The cuts target scientific work in fields including climate change, air and water quality, and chemical safety. EPA’s $50 million external grant program for environmental scientists at universities would be eliminated altogether. Cuts in the new budget memo include climate, air, and energy research would fall from $91.7 million to $45.7 million. Research in chemical safety and sustainability would drop from $89.2 million to $61.8 million. Water-related science falls from $107.2 million to $70.1 million. The budget for sustainable healthy communities plunges from $139.7 million to $75.8 million. The OMB memo also states that the EPA would no longer contribute to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, a multiagency task force that coordinates federal research on global change.
The OMB office says the cuts are needed to help reduce the burden that EPA regulations place on industry and state and local governments. Environmental scientists, regulators, and current and former EPA officials warn the reductions would devastate the agency’s efforts to carry out its mission of protecting human health and the environment.
The Trump administration’s final 2018 budget request is scheduled to be released on March 16th. It is not clear whether the administration will keep the steep EPA cuts in its final request to Congress, or whether Congress will approve the cuts. Many federal lawmakers, as well as state and local officials, have already expressed strong opposition to some of the cuts.
The new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, a long EPA foe, has suggested that he will push back against parts of the preliminary White House plan. Some senior Republicans in Congress have also expressed doubts about the larger Trump administration budget plan driving the EPA cuts.
It calls for boosting discretionary defense spending in 2018 by $54 billion, and paying for that increase by cutting discretionary spending at civilian agencies such as EPA. The shift would likely require Congress to change a 2011 law, called the Budget Control Act, that imposes caps on domestic spending—but Democrats in the Senate have already said they would block any change unless it also includes spending increases for civilian programs.