President’s EPA budget same as the Blueprint
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May 25, 2017
President’s EPA budget same as the Blueprint

In its fiscal year 2018 budget, the Trump administration did nothing to change the position, expressed in its earlier Budget Blueprint, that EPA’s portion of federal dollars should be cut by 31.4 percent. Neither did the president back down from either proposing elimination of virtually all EPA programs that are not statutorily required.

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The president’s overall goal is to cut $3.6 trillion from federal spending over the next 10 years and balance the national budget. In the short term, President Donald Trump wants to take money from many discretionary programs and funnel that into areas dominated by the national defense and border security.

In terms of percent of reduction, the EPA continues to lead all other agencies; the 31.4 percent reduction would bring the Agency’s annual budget to $5.7 billion, EPA’s lowest level in 40 years.

Value of discretionary programs

It is doubtful that the EPA allowance will actually drop that low. While “final,” the budget is really just a proposal to Congress, which writes the federal checks. Lawmakers have noted that some of the eliminations included in the budget would increase the financial burden of both blue and red states. For example, the proposal would eliminate nearly $500 million in categorical grants that help the states implement and enforce federal environmental laws, including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Safe Drinking Water Act. Also eliminated is the entirety of $427 million in funding for “geographic programs” that are intended to improve the quality of some of the nation’s most iconic waters, including the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay. Again, these water bodies are extraordinary economic engines, and few political leaders, regardless of party, are likely to agree that the federal government should leave their future entirely in the hands of the states.

Refocusing the EPA

But removing the EPA and EPA money from regulatory activities that should be shouldered almost entirely by the states is the administration’s repeated justification for the cuts. For example, regarding the proposed $129 million cut in EPA enforcement dollars, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) says the reduction “will allow the Agency to refocus enforcement priorities on programs that are not delegated to states and avoid duplication of effort in states with delegated enforcement authority.

Congress will have a different way

The OMB is also realistic about the budget’s prospects in Congress. In a press briefing, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney notes that the president must by law submit a budget.

“So we take this very seriously,” said Mulvaney. “Why? There’s a certain message here, okay, and it’s the message from the president of the United States to the Congress that says, look, here are my priorities in terms of where I want to spend more; here’s where I think we shouldn’t be spending nearly as much; and here’s some of the big-ticket items. And one of the big-ticket items is I want more money for defense; I want more money for border security; I want more money for the vets and school choice; and I don’t want to add to the deficit this year; and I want to be responsible for the taxpayers in a way that we haven’t been before.

“If Congress has a different way to get to that end point, God bless them. That’s great. And that will be part of my testimony to both the House and the Senate this week. Do I expect them to adopt this 100 percent, wholeheartedly, without any change? Absolutely not. Do I expect them to work with the administration on trying to figure out places where we’re on the same page? Absolutely. But I don’t think it invalidates the importance, the credibility of the president’s budget just because they’re not going to pass it wholeheartedly.”

The president’s budget and related documents are here. The transcript of Mulvaney’s briefing is here.

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