Clouding the Environment
Terry H. Schwadron
Just what has been eliminated in proposed budget cuts at the Environmental Protection Agency? Some documents circulating show the breadth of cuts to pesticide safety, water runoff, cooperation programs with Mexico and Canada, fuel efficiency — 56 programs in all.
While the budget remains a proposal, I can imagine there will be little sentiment in a Republican-majority Congress to restore spending for any of these.
And, if you eliminate programs, you can drop employment too, a quarter of the 15,000 employees nationwide. So, as the agency considers a controversial rollback in fuel efficiency standards, you can lose more than half the number of people in the appropriate testing division, transferring funding to a program underwritten by automakers themselves.
Overall, the Trump plan calls for a 31 percent cut in the $5.7 billion department budget, which doesn’t tell the whole story. The Washington Post reported, for example, that by maintaining funs to states to administer waste treatment and drinking water, the budget for the rest of EPA will be cut by 43 percent.
None of this is a surprise. Team Trump views environmental regulations as anti-business and job-killers, and EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt opposes most of what the EPA has stood for.
And these budget cuts are to the agency itself. Separately individual laws (one is pending involving wildlife protection) and general executive orders have targeted regulations for elimination or downgrading. These have affected auto emission standards, wetlands protections, and anything seeming to support climate change investigation under any name.
Indeed, Pruitt says that states and localities can protect environment (can anyone please give him a big glass of Flint, MI tap water?), and that we should limit federal authority. Environmental groups would argue that this amounts to surrender to industries like coal seeking looser regulations.
In any event, it is an outline that pushes back against the environmental programs of the Obama administration (and even the George W. Bush administration).
In the documents outlining the cuts, EPA acting chief financial officer David A. Bloom said the agency would now “center on our core legal requirements,” eliminating less-than-required activities on scientific research, climate change and education, and leaving other activities to state and local governments.
Scientists would take a huge hit: some 84 percent of the Science Advisory Board budget. You don’t need the money if you don’t believe in science, or expect to review scientific work. Cuts R in research funds will affect programs on climate change, water quality, and chemical safety, and “safe and sustainable water resources,” the document said.
The Post quoted Ken Kopocis, who formerly headed the EPA’s Office of Water, as saying the cuts would eliminate funds to farmers to help curb agricultural runoff.
Several congressional Republicans have expressed support for reorienting the EPA’s mission, though I’m sure that several have favored programs that will be lost. It seems clear that among Republican congressmen, just hearing the words “climate change” triggers a desire to cut EPA programs.
Personal pique seems to play an overly large part. Here is Sen. James Inhofe, an outspoken climate change critic, on political bias among scientific advisory boards scheduled for cuts. “They’re going to have to start dealing with science, not rigged science.”
Some companies complain that the EPA sets programs requiring fees on top of fees they already pay for industry review. One example is a program to teach and monitor proper handling of pesticides.
Also due for elimination: Programs that study known environmental hazards including lead, poor indoor air quality, and radiation. The $1.3 million indoor air radon program was meant to protect home residents from an invisible gas associated with lung cancer, annually killing 21,000 people. Another target is the EPA radiation program, $2.3 million, which sets standards for safe levels of radiation from uranium and other elements. The document also recommends a $28.9 million cut in the enforcement of Superfund hazardous waste clean-up sites.
, places where hazardous materials require long-term response plans.
Also recommended are elimination of regional projects focused on restoring watersheds and coastal and marine habitats in the Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Champlain, Long Island Sound, Puget Sound, San Francisco Bay, the Great Lakes, and South Florida — all returning responsibility to localities. As well there is a $500 million cut for renewable energy research.
Team Trump promises more cuts next year.
The ultimate joke will be when states like California and even New York require more than the number of federal regulations in these areas.
Hmm, funding the minimum of what has been legislated means relying on the prescience of people like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan to actually understand what our specific needs are now and will be in the future. These are the same people who think health care is about tax cuts rather than health care. Are we surprised that they will think there is no problem in making water and air clean?