Trump Plan to Slash EPA Budget Goes Even Deeper, New Memo Shows

The administration’s budget proposal to cut $2.5 billion gets an action plan, gutting all climate research and partnerships to cut industry emissions.

A draft EPA budget memo sends a strong signal that the Trump administration wants to gut all agency activity related to global warming. Credit: JIM LO SCALZO/AFP/Getty Images

In addition to halting regulatory action on climate change, the Environmental Protection Agency would stop studying the science and would end all industry partnerships to curb emissions as part of the Trump administration's plan to slash the agency's budget 31 percent, a new document shows.

The detailed budget draft, first reported on Saturday by the Washington Post, shows how EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and his team propose to slice $2.5 billion from the agency's spending next year and lay off 25 percent of its employees. Congress undoubtedly will balk at some of the proposed cuts; some Republicans on Capitol Hill already have voiced opposition to the elimination of programs important to their constituents, like infrastructure assistance for Great Lakes restoration projects and for native villages in Alaska.

But the draft EPA budget memo also sends a strong signal that Donald Trump's administration wants the knife to fall heavily on any activity related to global warming.

The internal memo, from acting Chief Financial Officer David Bloom to top agency personnel, calls for "taking a comprehensive look at our priorities and thinking differently about the best ways to accomplish our core statutory responsibilities." The memo repeatedly portrays climate as outside the agency's "core statutory requirements." That's a radical change from the Obama administration's last EPA budget proposal, which called greenhouse gas mitigation and climate change adaptation "the issue of highest importance facing the agency."

The draft addresses the budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins Oct. 1. The agency is now operating on a stopgap spending bill that expires late this month.

The administration is seeking to save $70 million and cut 224 full-time employees by eliminating the EPA's Climate Protection Program, including 14 voluntary partnerships with industry that were aimed at cutting energy use and greenhouse gases. The best known of those is the Energy Star labeling program, aimed at providing consumers and businesses with information on the energy costs of appliances they purchase. The memo calls for transferring the program to a non-governmental entity.

Other programs on the chopping block: SmartWay, a partnership with the trucking and freight industry that the agency says has lowered fuel costs by $24.9 billion since its inception in 2004;  the Natural Gas Star partnership to reduce methane emissions; the GreenChill program to reduce use of climate-harming gases in refrigeration; and the Responsible Appliance Disposal Program.

It would cut $44 million or 87 percent of air, climate and energy research from the Office of Research and Development, including all the research in coordination with the government-wide U.S. Global Change Research Program. The memo said the agency instead will focus its resources on "core environmental statutory requirements," even though the authority for the research program does derive from a statute: the Global Change Research Act of 1990.

The EPA also would eliminate $48 million in funding for the federal vehicle fuels standards and certification program, which tests fuel efficiency claims by the auto industry. It proposes converting it to a program completely financed by fees from automakers.

Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, protested the lack of public hearings since the White House released its budget outline two weeks ago. In a letter to the committee's chairman, Sen. Mike Enzo (R-Wyo.), he noted that in 2001, the committee held a hearing on President George W. Bush's budget just one day after it was unveiled, and followed that with six more hearings.

However, the draft from the EPA makes clear that its budget, like the overall administration proposal, remains incomplete. (The version leaked to the Washington Post even notes that "the untimely release of information is not productive and creates unintended consequences."

In addition to Trump's fiscal 2018 proposal, Congress also will be wrestling with funding for the remainder of the 2017 fiscal year. Funding runs out on April 29 unless Congress votes for a continuation of spending; the White House has urged that $3 billion be included in this year's budget for homeland security, including $1.5 billion in funding for a Mexico border wall, offset by domestic cuts elsewhere.

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