Trump budget would cut EPA science programs and slash cleanups

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's fiscal 2018 budget proposal would cut the Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Science and Technology nearly in half, while paring by 40 percent funding for EPA employees who oversee and put in place environmental regulations, according to a White House document that was shared with The New York Times.

And while the agency's administrator, Scott Pruitt, has vowed to prioritize the agency's cleanup of hazardous waste sites, the president would cut funding for the program, known as Superfund, by about 25 percent. And spending for a program to restore former industrial sites contaminated by pollution, another stated priority of the administrator, would shrink by about 36 percent.

Those cuts are part of an overall EPA budget reduction of about 30 percent, as outlined originally in March, when the White House unveiled the top-line budget requests for the fiscal year that begins in October. The agency's budget would drop to $5.7 billion — its lowest level in 40 years, adjusted for inflation — from its current $8.2 billion.

On Tuesday, the White House will fill in the details with a full budget release. White House officials did not respond to requests for comment Friday on the EPA budget request.

But Liz Bowman, an agency spokeswoman, said the proposal "prioritizes federal funding for work in infrastructure, air and water quality, and ensuring the safety of chemicals in the marketplace."

"The budget aims to reduce redundancies and inefficiencies and focus on our core statutory mission," she said.

The White House document was circulated by the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, a group of state and local pollution control officials.

Trump has made clear that he wants to increase military spending by 10 percent, and spend more on the border with Mexico, including building a wall. He would also not touch the largest drivers of the budget deficit, Medicare and Social Security.

To do all of that, deliver what he has called the largest tax cut in the nation's history and make good on his campaign pledge to balance the budget, virtually every other aspect of government would have to be significantly cut back. Those cuts would hit the EPA especially hard.

The proposed cuts to the agency charged with protecting the nation's environment and public health appear explicitly aimed at slowing or stopping some of its ability to regulate several forms of pollution, including the carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming. The proposed reductions would carry out Trump's campaign pledges to drastically reduce the size and scope of the EPA, and his subsequent push to roll back major Obama-era environmental regulations.

In particular, the budget appears to reflect Trump's efforts to repeal rules aimed at tackling climate change, as well as a major regulation to limit pollution in waterways and wetlands. Trump has called such rules "stupid" and "job killers."

Republicans on Capitol Hill are unlikely to approve reductions at the levels envisioned by the White House.

Last year, the House spending subcommittee that controls the EPA's budget proposed funding the agency at $8 billion, cutting just $291 million from President Barack Obama's request.

Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., the chairman of that appropriations panel, said in an interview this year that he did not anticipate cutting the EPA's popular state grant programs, which fund projects like restoring the Great Lakes and cleaning and redeveloping former industrial sites. All of those programs are targeted for severe cuts or elimination under Trump's budget proposal.

The draft reflects what critics have called the diminished priority that Trump places on science. This month, that criticism increased as the EPA declined to renew the terms of several academic scientists who sit on a key agency review panel, the Board of Scientific Counselors, and signaled that the agency might be interested in replacing them with representatives from regulated industries.

The president's request would shrink the budget for the Office of Science and Technology to $450 million, from about $740 million now.

It would cut grants to states to conduct their own environmental programs by about 19 percent, to $2.9 billion from $3.6 billion.

Among the few state-level programs it would leave intact is a $20 million revolving fund to help states and communities build safer water infrastructure, a program aimed at helping municipalities prevent disasters like the lead contamination crisis that sickened thousands in Flint, Michigan.

But the proposed budget would eliminate all spending on nearly a dozen state-level programs aimed at researching and protecting local watershed ecosystems, including programs on the Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Champlain, Lake Pontchartrain and Puget Sound.


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