Draft Trump Budget Proposes Major Cuts in EPA, DOE Programs

The Trump administration released a blueprint of its proposed 2018 budget on March 16, likely setting off a major battle with Congress.

The budget proposal, “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again” makes major cuts in non-defense discretionary spending over 2017. While funding for the Department of Defense is boosted $52.3 billion, all other agency spending is cut by $54 billion. In total, the budget requests $13.6 billion less than the previous year.

Budget Cuts for Energy Research

The blueprint contains a significant number of items relevant to the power sector. Among the highlights are restarting the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada (Figure) and eliminating numerous programs and research projects in the Department of Energy (DOE), such as the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). Federal activities related to climate change research and mitigation are also zeroed out, and a wide variety other scientific research programs are significantly cut or eliminated.

 

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The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository project in Nevada, shut down by President Obama, would receive $120 million in funding to restart the licensing process under President Trump’s proposed budget blueprint. Courtesy: Cyndy Sims Parr

 

DOE. The blueprint cuts $3.1 billion from the DOE’s non-nuclear weapon programs. Other changes include:

  • Provides $120 million to restart the licensing process for Yucca Mountain
  • Eliminates ARPA-E, the Title 17 Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program, and the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program
  • Cuts $900 million from the Office of Science
  • Cuts $2 billion from the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the Office of Nuclear Energy, the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, and the Fossil Energy Research and Development, a roughly 45% reduction

Homeland Security. The blueprint allocates $1.5 billion for enhanced cybersecurity activities.

Interior. Among other provisions, the blueprint requests increased funding to support fossil fuel exploration on federal lands and offshore waters.

State. Eliminates the Global Climate Change Initiative and ceases U.S. funding related to the United Nations Green Climate Fund and its two precursor Climate Investment Funds.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The blueprint envisions a major contraction and reorientation of the EPA’s activities. Overall funding is cut by 31%, or $2.6 billion. Specific cuts include:

  • Discontinues funding for the Clean Power Plan, international climate change programs, climate change research and partnership programs, and related efforts
  • Cuts $330 million from the Superfund account
  • Cuts $129 from Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance
  • Cuts $233 from Office of Research and Development
  • Eliminates more than 50 individual programs, including Energy Star

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). As with other agencies, a number of NASA research projects come in for major cuts or elimination. The blueprint cuts $102 million from scientific research programs and eliminates four NASA climate science programs: the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem mission; the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3; the Deep Space Climate Observatory; and the Climate Absolute Radiance and Refractivity Observatory.

Battles Looming with Congress

In the introduction to the blueprint, President Trump said, “These cuts are sensible and rational. Every agency and department will be driven to achieve greater efficiency and to eliminate wasteful spending in carrying out their honorable service to the American people.”

Reaction to the blueprint from environmental groups was swift and vitriolic. Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said, “If Trump refuses to be serious about protecting our health and climate, or our publicly owned lands, then Congress must act, do its job, and reject this rigged budget.”

Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said, “Literally and figuratively, this is a scorched earth budget that represents an all out assault on clean air, water, and land. You can’t put ‘America First’ when you put the health of it’s people and its country last.”

Manish Bapna, managing director of the World Resources Institute expressed dismay at cuts to climate science programs. “The administration should respect science and continue to respond to the growing impacts of climate change, which is understood by the scientific and security communities alike,” he said. “Slashing climate and clean energy funds will undermine U.S. business and diplomatic interests and lead to greater security risks for us all.”

Given the steep cuts and wholesale elimination of entire programs, the blueprint’s prospects in Congress are unclear. Several prominent Republicans such as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) publicly expressed concern, with several of them saying they would oppose specific cuts and others suggesting the blueprint itself was unrealistic. New EPA administrator Scott Pruitt had reportedly asked for smaller cuts to his agency, but the blueprint appears to have cut his budget even further than anticipated.

—Thomas W. Overton, JD is a POWER associate editor (@thomas_overton, @POWERmagazine).