President Donald Trump’s proposed 2020 federal budget—a record-high $4.75 trillion—includes a 31% decrease in funding for the EPA, from $8.9 billion in 2019 to $6.1 billion. The proposal would eliminate 37 current EPA programs and four “subprogram projects” and reduce the budgets of 15 major programs. The president also proposes a new $50 million Healthy Schools Grant Program, as well as five new programs to support America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 (AWIA).
Congress Has the Last Word
The proposed reductions for the Agency follow the same pattern of the two previous White House budget proposals under Trump. Requested budget cuts were 31% for 2018 and 23% for 2019. In both cases, Congress rejected basically all the cuts and renewed the EPA’s funding back to the $8 billion range. The new proposal includes a request for $8.6 billion for a security wall along portions the nation’s southern border.
There is little indication that Congress, which dictates federal spending, will agree to the president’s proposed reductions. Democratic leaders suggested the proposal was an exercise in fantastic thinking.
“President Trump has somehow managed to produce a budget request even more untethered from reality than his past two,” said Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-NY), chair of the House Appropriations Committee. “This irresponsible proposal slashes investments in America’s working families to unworkable budget cap levels, resulting in cuts of 9% to programs like early childhood education, job training, law enforcement, safe drinking water, and scientific and medical research.”
“For the third year in a row, President Trump has sent a budget proposal that is dead on arrival and divorced from reality,” said Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “It is not worth the paper it is printed on, and it will be rejected by Congress.”
While Republicans did not voice similar disapproval, neither were they particularly enthusiastic. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he was “looking forward” to reviewing the details in the proposal.
“Throughout the next few months, the Senate Appropriations Committee will conduct hearings and carefully review the President’s proposal as we work to draft and pass spending bills for FY2020,” said Shelby.
As in the past two proposals, the EPA emphasizes its mission to implement its “core” environmental protections, a code word for meeting the requirements of the federal environmental statutes, and stepping away from initiatives that go beyond that. Also, for many of the programs proposed for elimination (e.g., beach and fish programs, leaking underground storage tanks, and the indoor radon program), the EPA says it is up to the states to continue the programmatic work. States are also expected to undertake programs to protect major bodies of water such as the Gulf of Mexico, Puget Sound, and the Everglades; the president proposes no federal financial assistance for any of these areas.
However, the Agency would not necessarily cease working in areas covered by eliminated programs. For example, efforts now ongoing in a program called Safe Water for Small and Disadvantaged Communities, which is proposed for elimination, would continue through the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) mechanisms.
The proposal would continue to support programs the Agency believes are critical to its mission, including $1 billion for the Hazardous Substance Superfund Account, a 10% decrease from previous funding, and $66.4 million ($5 million more than the 2019 total) to implement the Toxic Substances Control Act’s (TSCA) Chemical Risk Review and Reduction program. The EPA is obligated by the 2016 amendments to TSCA to satisfy many provisions by specific deadlines.
Also high on the Agency’s priority list is continuation of work to reform regulations and the federal permitting process. The EPA has committed to reducing by 50% the number of permitting-related decisions that exceed 6 months by September 30, 2019. For 2020, the EPA is requesting $28 million “to advance deregulation, permitting work, and technical assistance for our co-regulatory partners.”
“This commonsense budget proposal would support the agency as it continues to work with states, tribes, and local governments to protect human health and the environment,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.
EPA’s FY 2020: EPA Budget in Brief is here.