President Trump’s Budget for a Better America May Not Be Better for the EPA

by Raymond S. Heyman

On Monday, March 11, 2019, the Office of Management and Budget issued President Trump’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2020, “A Budget for a Better America”, (the “Budget Proposal”) in the amount of $4.7 trillion.

As in years past, the Budget Proposal will be scrutinized for what it includes (and increases) as well as what it excludes (and reduces).  Notably, the greatest departmental budget reduction is proposed for the Environmental Protection Agency, a frequent target of the Trump administration.  The Budget Proposal would reduce the EPA’s budget by $2.7 billion, or 31%.

The Budget Proposal states:

Environmental protection and public health are key to U.S.  prosperity and essential to  America’s quality of life.  Through cooperative federalism,  EPA works with States and Tribes, as well as local governments, businesses, and the public to protect human health and the environment.  The Budget proposes to eliminate many voluntary and lower-priority activities and refocus the Agency on strategic and regulatory reforms such as implementation of:

  • Cooperative federalism activities under various environmental statutes;
  • Requirements under Executive Order 13807, “One Federal Decision;”
  • Activities to support attainment of the national ambient air quality standards and implementation of air toxics standards;
  • Waters of the United States (WOTUS) definitional changes;
  • The 2016 Amendments to the  Toxic Substances Control  Act (TSCA); and
  • The Affordable Clean Energy rule, a replacement to the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.

Budget Proposal, at 93.

An EPA Press Release issued on March 11, 2019 regarding the Budget Proposal stated:

“This commonsense budget proposal would support the agency as it continues to work with states, tribes and local governments to protect human health and the environment,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “I am proud of the tremendous progress that EPA and its partners have made in cleaning our nation’s air, water and land, and I am looking forward to continuing this progress through FY 2020.”

Highlights of the fiscal year 2020 budget proposal include:

  • Investments in Water Infrastructure: The budget funds water infrastructure through the State Revolving Funds, the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) credit program, and the recently authorized America’s Water Infrastructure Act (AWIA). The FY 2020 capitalization of the State Revolving Funds would supplement approximately $80 billion currently revolving at the state level. Credit subsidy funding for WIFIA will continue the program’s momentum by potentially supporting more than $2 billion in direct loans, which when combined with other funding sources, could spur more than $4 billion in total water infrastructure investment. Additionally, the budget proposes funds for AWIA grant programs that will assist in lead testing and drinking water fountain replacement in schools, sewer overflow control, and water infrastructure workforce investment. These resources would complement state and local drinking water and wastewater infrastructure investments as well as funding provided through other federal sources.
  • Support for Healthier Schools: Approximately 50 million American children spend their time in K-12 school facilities every day. Many of these buildings are old and contain environmental hazards that could pose a risk to children’s health. To address this issue, the budget proposes establishing a $50 million grant program to assist communities in identifying and resolving these hazards. Activities supported by this grant program will result in safer and healthier school environments for American children.
  • Regulatory and Permitting Reforms: The budget provides resources to ensure EPA can advance priority areas, including reviewing and revising regulations, improving the permitting process, and enhancing collaboration with state, tribal and federal partners. For example, several significant rulemakings are expected to be completed before 2020, including replacement rules for Waters of the United States and the 2015 Clean Power Plan. In FY 2020, EPA is committed to implementing these rulemakings by providing technical assistance and guidance to states, tribes and regulated entities as they adapt to these changes.
  • Optimizing Clean-Up Efforts at the Nation’s Most Complex Hazardous Waste Sites: The budget provides $1 billion for the Hazardous Substance Superfund Account. EPA has made significant progress identifying impediments to clean-up at sites with significant exposure risks and developing action plans to overcome those impediments. EPA is also working with prospective purchasers, developers and responsible parties to bring more private funding for redevelopment, saving taxpayer dollars for the sites that truly need federal funding. Reducing exposure to hazardous substances and revitalizing contaminated land for use by the community is a priority and a fundamental part of EPA’s core mission.
  • Strengthening Protections from Toxic Chemicals: The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), as amended, requires EPA to evaluate whether existing chemicals may pose unreasonable risks and, if so, take immediate steps to protect human health and the environment. EPA must also affirm that new chemicals entering the market are safe and that appropriate measures are taken to address risks. In FY 2020, this work will accelerate as the agency reaches statutory deadlines to complete the first set of risk evaluations for existing chemicals and begins the next phase of work. The budget provides $66.4 million for the Chemical Risk Review and Reduction program to support these efforts, which will supplement fees paid by chemical manufacturers and processors.

However, not everyone shares Chairman Wheeler’s optimism.  And as was pointed out in a recent article by EcoWatch, there are a number of programs that would be reduced or eliminated in the Budget proposal reduction:

  1. Endangered Species Funding: The budget for adding new species to the endangered species list would be cut by about 50 percent, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) said, while funding for the Fish and Wildlife Service overall would fall by 16 percent compared to 2019 levels.

  2. The Land and Water Conservation Fund: The popular Land and Water Conservation Fund uses money from offshore oil and gas drilling to create national parks, wildlife refuges and protected areas. It was re-authorized in a bipartisan public lands bill that Trump is expected to sign, yet his budget would reduce its funds by 95 percent, the Huffington Post reported.

  3. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative: Among the many potential EPA cuts, the Trump administration wants to massively reduce funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which works to restore wetlands and improve water quality. The budget wants to cut $270 million of $300 million in funding…

  4. Climate Change Prevention and Research: Many plans to study or deal with climate change would see cuts, Pacific Standard reported. Those include a 90 percent funding decrease for the EPA’s Atmospheric Protection Program, which reports on greenhouse gasses, and a 70 percent funding decrease for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

It must be remembered that the President’s Budget Proposal is just the first step in the budget approval process.  While the Budget Proposal reveals the priorities of the President and his administration, both houses of Congress and the court of public opinion will all weigh in on the final budget.

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