Legal & Regulatory

Deep EPA Budget Cuts Not What Americans Want, Former EPA Heads Say

President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, which cuts funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by 31%, will not be received favorably by the American people, former EPA Administrators Gina McCarthy and Carol Browner said March 17 during a call with the press.

“This is clear what’s happening. The White House has made a decision that what they want to do is build a wall and they’re going to do it at the expense of clean air, clean water. They’re going to take the environmental cop off the beat to pay for a wall. A wall that the president told us would be paid for by Mexico,” Browner said, referencing Trump’s pledge to build a wall on the border of the U.S. and Mexico in an attempt to curb illegal immigration.

Trump’s budget proposal, released March 16, would fund the EPA with $5.7 billion in fiscal year 2017–2018, $2.6 billion less than the current funding level. “This would result in approximately 3,200 fewer positions at the agency,” according to the proposal.

The proposal targets several specific programs. Funding for the Clean Power Plan, carbon emissions standards for existing coal-fired power plants, would be discontinued, as would funding for “international climate change programs, climate change research and partnership programs, and related efforts,” the proposal says.

Trump also proposes cutting funding for the EPA’s Office of Research and Development by $233 million, resulting in a 2017–2018 funding level of $250 million.

“This budget makes significant cuts to programs that protect our air, our water, our land, which is not an American value. Eviscerating resources for scientific research on climate change and pollution is not an American value,” Browner said.

Removing the role of scientists from the EPA is a particularly egregious act, Browner said, noting that some of Trump’s appointees have made conflicting statements on climate change. For example, the Secretary of Defense, Gen. James Mattis, cited climate change as a threat, while Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney stated that on “the question as to climate change, I think the President was fairly straightforward—we’re not spending money on that anymore; we consider that to be a waste of your money to go out and do that.”

The conflicting statements illustrate perfectly why research needs to be a core mission at the EPA, Browner said. “This administration needs to decide where are they on these key important issues and they need to retain the scientific expertise so that the right decisions can be made. There is no upside in ripping out the science behind the work of the EPA,” she said.

The budget does not reflect accurately the relationship between the EPA and the states, McCarthy said. According to the proposal, the budget reflects “the important role of the States in implementing the Nation’s environmental laws.”

According to McCarthy, the role of the federal government must be more hands-on. “EPA has technical expertise; we have scientists, we have legal advisors, we have economic advisors,” she said. “They work hand in hand with states. They are not working contrary to the states; they are working to provide levels of expertise that no state can afford to have and no state actual has. We do the big science issues. We do the big technical issues. We do emergencies when states don’t have the capability to do it themselves.”

Browner and McCarthy found some hope in the fact that the budget that is eventually adopted will likely be very different than the proposal.

“My profound hope is that the members of Congress remember the lesson they learned when Newt Gingrich tried to slash the EPA budget, this is not what the American people want,” Browner said.

Abby L. Harvey is a POWER reporter.

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