Under the Dome

Cut EPA to 1990-level funding, Trump proposes

In this June 1, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump shakes hands with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Before he left the agency, Pruitt changed rules that protected the public.
In this June 1, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump shakes hands with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Before he left the agency, Pruitt changed rules that protected the public. AP

The 2019 federal budget proposed by President Donald Trump calls for a 34 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency, cutting funding for the agency to $5.4 billion — its lowest funding level since 1990.

Trump’s proposed budget is very unlikely to become law, but it does set out the administration’s agenda. The budget calls for more spending on defense and border security with cuts to entitlements and other domestic spending.

It’s not clear how many employees the EPA would have at the proposed funding level. In his 2018 proposal, Trump called for cutting the EPA’s budget to $5.6 billion and 11,611 full-time positions. Congress has yet to pass a budget for the current fiscal year, which began last October, instead relying on short-term deals to keep the government funded. It is currently funded through March 23.

Already, a wave of buyouts and retirements have reduced the agency’s ranks. It had 14,188 full-time employees in December, its fewest employees since 1987, according to the EPA. The agency received $8.2 billion in funding in the 2017 enacted budget. There are more than 1,000 federal employees at EPA offices in North Carolina. The EPA’s office in Research Triangle Park, at 1.2 million square feet the largest the agency has ever built, includes 15 offices, including the agency’s center for air pollution research and regulation.

The latest proposed Trump budget, which covers from Oct. 1, 2018 to Sept. 30, 2019, calls for renewed focus on the EPA’s “core mission areas” such as air quality, water resources, sustainable communities, chemical safety and human health risk assessment. It “eliminates many voluntary and lower priority activities and programs, and invests in process improvements and other operational enhancements to bring greater efficiency and cost effectiveness to the work of the Agency.”

The budget call for the elimination of several programs, including the Climate Change Research and Partnership Programs; the Indoor Air and Radon Programs; the Marine Pollution and National Estuary Programs; the Environmental Education Program; and the Beaches Program.

The budget proposal would allow the EPA to charge manufacturers that want the “ENERGY STAR” label on their products. ENERGY STAR is currently a voluntary program that helps “individuals save money and protect our climate through superior energy efficiency.” The budget proposal calls for EPA to administer the program through user fees. The 2018 proposed budget called for the elimination of the ENERGY STAR program, claiming that it could successfully be administered by nongovernmental entities.

The last time the EPA had a budget of less than $6 billion was in 1990, when the agency’s funding was $5.4 billion.

The proposal drew sharp criticism from environmental groups.

“President Trump’s budget is nothing short of devastating for all Americans who value clean air, safe drinking water, and protected public lands. It guts vital health and environmental protections – and abandons our children to the ravages of climate change. This reckless budget puts polluters first – and the rest of us last. Congress must reject it, and instead invest in a cleaner, safer, and more prosperous future for everyone,” said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement.

Environmental policy has been a flashpoint throughout Trump’s first year in office.

Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris climate accords, and the EPA has been one of the most controversial agencies during the Trump administration. Administrator Scott Pruitt has been under fire for his close ties to the oil and gas industry as well as his personal spending decisions on travel and security.

North Carolina Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis helped sink one of Trump’s picks for a key EPA position last year. Burr and Tillis, both Republicans, announced that they would not support Michael Dourson, Trump’s nominee for the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. Dourson withdrew in December.

The state has dealt with issues of contaminated water at Camp Lejeune and now in southeastern North Carolina.

Brian Murphy: 202-383-6089, @MurphinDC