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Proposed US budget targets EPA, regulation and environment initiatives

21 March 2017

On March 16, President Donald Trump's administration published its budget plans, which involve reducing the Environmental Protection Agency's budget by 31% and eliminating 3,200 of its employees (19% of the workforce). Other major themes include reducing funding for enforcing regulations, water and air pollution clean-up initiatives, toxic waste site remediation and promoting energy-efficient appliances.

The EPA would sustain the biggest cut of any federal agency in the White House 2018 budget, as Trump seeks to clear away regulations he claims are holding back the US oil, coal and industrial sectors. A particular target has been the previous administration’s Clean Power Plan, aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

"Consistent with the President's America First Energy Plan, the budget reorients the EPA's air program to protect the air we breathe without unduly burdening the American economy," a summary of the proposed EPA budget said.

The retrenchment at the EPA will be overseen by Scott Pruitt, the agency’s new administrator, who disputes the scientific consensus that human actions are the lead cause of climate change. In his former position as attorney general of oil-producing Oklahoma, he sued the EPA more than a dozen times.

Trump also doubts the science of climate change and has said the country can reduce green regulations drastically without compromising air and water quality.

The proposed budget would cut $427 million aimed at regional pollution clean-up programs, including in the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay. Funding for the Superfund program to clean up the nation's most contaminated sites would drop by $330 million to $762 million.

Other than the departments and agencies which will lose some of their funding, a further 19 agencies and 61 other programs face having all of their funding removed. In the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy these include:

*/Clean Power Plan - Creates national standards for carbon pollution from power plants and helps states develop and deploy clean energy alternatives.
*/ International climate change programs - Promotes clean and efficient energy technologies and the sharing of scientific climate research through multilateral initiatives and treaties.
*/ Climate change research and partnership programs - Research and report on climate change’s impact on the US
*/ Great Lakes Restoration Initiative - Government task force focused on pollution clean-up, invasive-species reduction and wildlife protection within the Great Lakes.
*/ Chesapeake Bay Program - Regional partnership that oversees the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed.
*/ Energy Star - Certifies and recognises buildings and consumer products that meet specific energy-efficiency criteria.
*/ Targeted Air Shed grants - Assists local and state air pollution control agencies in developing plans and implementing projects to reduce air pollution in highly polluted areas.
*/ Infrastructure assistance to Alaska Native villages - Assists Alaska Native villages with infrastructure projects to address problems with water quality, sanitation and other environmental needs.
*/ Infrastructure assistance near the Mexican border - Funds environmental infrastructure projects in border-area communities that will have a positive effect on health and the environment in the U.S.
*/ Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy - Provides funding and support to short-term energy research projects aimed at improving the U.S. economy, environment and national security.
*/ Title 17 Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program - Provides loans to support the use of new energy technology.
*/ Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program - Provides loans to automotive and component manufacturers for facilities and engineering that support advanced technology vehicles.
*/ State Energy Program - Supports local State Energy Offices in advancing energy efficiency and infrastructure.

Reuters reported that after the news of the cuts were made public, representatives from California state authorities handed recruitment fliers to EPA employees on their way to work. The western state is expanding its energy commissions and a clean air agency and sees the federal agency as a source of experienced staff. The fliers said: "Fight Climate Change, Work for California."

In addition, the Department of Labor would see the removal of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training grants. The Susan Harwood training program has up until now provided grants for training and education programs for employers and workers on the prevention of safety and health hazards in the workplace.

Under the proposals, the Chemical Safety Board is also due to be wound up. This agency investigates chemical accidents and makes recommendations to industry and labour groups, OSHA and the EPA, to prevent future incidents. (See Hazardex Comment article dated 20 March 2017.)

An important point is that these are only initial proposals and have to be passed, line by line, by Congress. Even though both House and Senate are controlled by Republicans, at least some of these agencies and initiatives are likely to be reinstated as powerful Congressmen defend spending on their local patches.


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