The Trump administration’s federal budget proposal for the 2020 fiscal year reaffirmed the White House’s misguided intent to undercut agencies and programs dedicated to protecting public health, the environment, and our climate. Similar its budget proposals of the last two years, the administration targeted EPA in particular for major reductions. In total, the administration proposed a greater than $2.7-billion-dollar reduction to EPA. That’s a 31% cut—deeper than any other agency—to an agency that is already struggling to function with a bare-bones budget that is at historic lows.
The proposal will hopefully be dead on arrival in Congress, thanks to members who recognize the importance of agencies critical to keeping people safe and healthy. However, it reveals something fundamentally unscrupulous about the administration: they see the protection of our air, water and planet as an area where corners can be cut, rules can be abandoned, and pennies can be pinched.
Nearly every EPA program is facing proposed cuts, but some of the attacks stuck out in particular for how damaging they would be to the American people. Here are 4 of the most dangerous ways the Trump administration’s proposal threatens our families and communities:
Your health is on the chopping block
While many associate EPA with the environment, the agency is at its core a public health organization. Trump’s proposal would keep it from capably serving that mission.
Perhaps most galling is a cut to efforts to reduce lead in drinking water. The administration has proposed to cut more than $32 million from programs dedicated to ridding water from a substance that continues to plague communities.
To put that number in perspective, those programs were granted only $42.6 million during the 2019 fiscal year, meaning the administration is proposing a 77% reduction, eliminating the Reducing Lead in Drinking Water and the Lead-based Paint Risk Reduction Program grants, and halving the Lead Testing in Schools grant.
Science makes clear that there is no safe level on lead for young children. Residents in an estimated 24 million homes have lead paint hazards and 6 million drink water that passed through a lead pipe. Despite this risk, the administration is looking to take a buzz saw to a program that EPA itself describes as “funding to states and tribes to ‘assist local and tribal educational agencies in voluntary testing for lead contamination in drinking water at schools and child care programs.’”
Other projects targeted for cuts include Superfund, which cleans up dangerous chemicals and radioactive pollution, clean air programs, chemical safety programs, and a program that is named “Children and Other Sensitive Populations.”
States, tribes, and local communities left holding the bag
The single largest cut proposed by the administration is to funding that states and local communities rely upon to effectively manage and defend against local pollution. That funding comes in the form of State and Tribal Assistance Grants (STAG) and Categorical Grants, which the administration is seeking to reduce by more than $1.4 billion dollars.
Tucked inside the STAG funding are programs dedicated to clean water, native villages, and efforts to curb harmful diesel emissions.
Geographic programs, on the other hand, identify and assist specific areas that span large regions, often across several states. Trump wants to do away with them almost entirely, cutting $410 million from their budget. Geographic program funding has been a key tool in protecting, preserving, and cleaning some of the most cherished lands and waterways in our country. Among the areas that would see their funding zeroed out: The Gulf of Mexico, Lake Champlain, Long Island Sound, Great Lakes, San Francisco Bay, and the Puget Sound. The Chesapeake Bay, one of our country’s largest watersheds, would see its budget decimated, going from $73 million to just $7.3 million. The Great Lakes Restoration program would have its budget cut by $270 million. That’s 90 percent.
At a time when new EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and the President have disingenuously called for states to take greater control of their pollution issues, the administration wants to pull the budget rug out from under states and communities, leaving them underfunded and underprepared to tackle their most pressing environmental issues.
Taking the cop off the beat
Without oversight, polluters would be free to dirty our air, water and land without repercussion. It is because EPA enforces its rules and regulations that industries are motivated to comply. Under Trump administration policies that oversight has slackened significantly. The dollar figures paint an even grimmer picture. Already, it’s been reported that enforcement actions against polluters have reached a 25-year low. Now, the administration wants to cut enforcement funding by more than $27 million.
The real world result will be polluters more emboldened to skirt the law, putting communities at risk of ingesting and breathing unhealthy levels of toxics and pollution. The administration has been a willing ally of industry, rolling back rules that would be beneficial to special interests, close associates, and donors. Stripping EPA’s enforcement arm of its funding would be another gift to those who would rather pollute than protect Americans.
Science & technology again under attack
The request to divest $250 million from the agency’s science and technology budget is another piece of the Trump administration’s larger attack on science. It would take funding away from programs dedicated to air quality management, infrastructure protection, and research on air, energy, water, and chemical safety.
EPA is unable to perform its duties without the science, technology, and research that undergirds its work. Frightfully, that’s likely the administration’s intention.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, is expected to testify in front of Congress in the coming weeks to defend the administration’s proposed budget. It’s our belief that there is absolutely no rationale for such a dangerous and harmful proposal and that Mr. Wheeler will attempt to mask the administration’s disdainful view of an agency dedicated to protecting people and the environment.
Thankfully, Congress will have the final say. Members of Congress should be acutely aware that money given to programs dedicated to American’s health and well-being must be out of bounds from Trump’s budget cuts. In turn, if Congress is performing its job, EPA won’t lose a penny and will, in fact, be given more funding to work with. Why? In real dollar figures, the agency’s current budget stands $10 billion less than it was nearly 40 years ago. During that same time, the agency’s duties have increased and our population and economy has grown significantly. It’s time for Congress to restore EPA’s budget to levels that will allow it to adequately do its job protecting Americans. And it’s time once again to reject the polluter-protection philosophy of the Trump administration.
*Numbers based on the EPA Budget in Brief provided by the administration.