White House Proposes 24% Cut to EPA Budget

By Jennifer A. Dlouhy, Bloomberg.

President Donald Trump’s plan to slash the Environmental Protection Agency’s $8.3 billion budget would almost certainly mean making deep cuts to programs that protect the air and water and invoke fierce protests from environmentalists.

That’s because roughly two out of every five dollars dedicated to the EPA ends up steered to state, tribal and local governments. Even Trump’s own advisers and the new EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, say the agency’s state environmental grants are off limits. That means the administration would need to reduce the EPA’s already tight budget for enforcing environmental laws and its legally mandated portfolio of other work, said John Coequyt, global climate policy director for the Sierra Club.

Opponents plan to fan public outrage, tapping into a movement that has pushed angry constituents to pack lawmakers’ town hall meetings to complain about proposed changes to the Affordable Care Act. And in the same way that widespread fondness for Big Bird once helped insulate public broadcasting -- and the flagship show "Sesame Street" -- from evisceration, critics are ready to highlight how budget cutbacks at EPA headquarters translates to air pollution in the heartland and lead pipes delivering drinking water in cities nationwide.

"The core premise here is that they can make very substantial cuts to the agency, leaving alone the state and local grant side, which is roughly half the budget," Coequyt said in a phone interview. "We have real doubts that can be done without substantially weakening the ability of EPA to respond to environmental problems and to carry out its core functions that are all established in law."

That may be the intended goal. Trump has consistently lambasted the agency -- once saying it should disappear altogether -- and criticized EPA regulations that he says burden companies, throttle energy development and delay factory construction.

The EPA is one of the the Trump administration’s top targets as it lays out plans to boost defense spending by $54 billion annually using money freed up by broad reductions across the rest of the government’s discretionary budget. It will take more than the EPA to get there; the agency is operating with an $8.3 billion budget and about 15,000 workers this year -- roughly the same spending level it has maintained for six years.

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