EPA’s 2019 Budget Could be Cleaved by One Quarter After Last Minute Clemency from Even Bigger Cuts
President Trump’s second EPA budget envisions similarly severe cuts to the agency as last year’s, completely eliminating many line items.
The Trump Administration released its budget for the 2019 fiscal year earlier this week and, like last year, it proposed huge cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). President Trump’s 2018 budget released last year marked EPA for the biggest cuts of any federal agency by reducing its budget by 31% to just $5.65 billion.
This time around the Administration aimed for even deeper cuts in its initial 2019 budget, which reduced EPA’s overall budget by 34%—down to only $5.4 billion. But the final draft of the budget, released Monday, raised EPA’s funding allotment to $6.146 billion after money was added back in specifically for the Superfund program ($327 million) and wastewater/stormwater systems ($397 million). Last week's congressional spending compromise released funding caps and created the fiscal flexibility that gave EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt the opportunity to restore funding for two of his most important priorities. Superfund, in particular, has been an area of intense focus and work at EPA during Mr. Pruitt's time there.
The last minute additions for Superfund and water systems were made at his urging to address EPA’s renewed focus more on what Administrator Pruitt coined as the agency’s "core mission,” which priorities such as cleaning up contaminated land, improving water quality and protecting human health.
Goal 1 of the newly released EPA budget sticks true to this “core mission,” part of three, new overarching strategic goals that guide EPA’s approach to protect human health and the environment, which is to “deliver real results to provide Americans with clean air, land, and water, and ensure chemical safety.” And the budget itself begins with a mission statement for EPA reaffirming the most uncontroversial elements of the agencies mission:
The mission of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to protect human health and the environment. This mission resonates with all Americans; we can all agree that we want our future generations to inherit a cleaner, healthier environment that supports a thriving economy. In carrying out its mission, the EPA works to ensure that all Americans are protected from exposure to hazardous environmental risks where they live, learn, work, and enjoy their lives. The Agency guides national efforts to reduce environmental risks, based upon ongoing research and scientific analysis.
True to this more focused mission, funding for the Superfund program is set at $1.09 billion, or roughly in line with Obama’s last EPA budget proposal. And it spells out very clearly that a “major component” of EPA’s FY 2019 budget request is “funding for drinking water and clean water infrastructure as well as for Brownfields and Superfund projects.”
The 2019 EPA budget proposal highlights a 2017 study that found housing property values increased 5-15.2% near brownfield sites when cleanup was completed. It even sets a goal to make an additional 102 Superfund sites and 1,368 Brownfields sites ready for anticipated use by September 30, 2019.
The renewed focus and vigor on the pressing needs for land redevelopment, environmental cleanup, stormwater management/disaster readiness and water quality are universally welcome. The White House’s new infrastructure plan also contained some very constructive and welcomed proposals to upgrade the Superfund program, empower cities who take back contaminated properties and greatly expand financing available to brownfield, Superfund and water projects.
But that’s where the good news for EPA ends. Backing out the last-minute addition of more than $725 million for Superfund and water systems, the rest of EPA is left with very low resources, nearly 1/3 less, as designed in the second-to-last final draft. Even with the last-minute bump up, EPA's cuts are more than the proposed cuts to any other federal agency, again.
The administration would lop 3,000 jobs from the agency’s payroll. That’s roughly 20% of EPA's workforce, which was already reduced by roughly 25% during the Obama administration.
It also continues the sustained efforts to redirect the federal government away from performing or funding work related to climate change of any kind by completely eliminating more than a dozen climate change programs. (Although some climate change related policy did find its way back into federal requirements, albeit not by that name.)
While there’s an emphasis on land revitalization, the brownfield program itself is cut from $25.4M to just $16M—though Administration officials pointed towards expansion of brownfield funding eligibility in the simultaneously released infrastructure plan. State and tribal assistance grants were also cut nearly in half to $597M, or 45% below recent funding levels and the same reduction proposed by the Trump Administration in its last budget.
- Chesapeake Bay -$65M to $7.3M
- Gulf of Mexico -$8.484M to $0
- Lake Champlain -$4.369M to $0
- Long Island Sound -$7.946M to $0
- Lake Pontchartrain -$942k to $0
- S.New England Estuary (SNEE) -$4.965M to $0
- Great Lakes Restoration -$267.963M to $30M
- South Florida $1.624M to $0
- San Francisco Bay $4.786M to $0
- Puget Sound -$27.810M to $0
- Environmental Education -$8.643M
- Small Minority Business Assistance -$1.573M
- International Program: US Mexico Border -$3.012M
- International Program: Trade and Governance -$5.777M
- Pesticides Licensing Science Policy and Biotechnology -$1.479M
- RCRA: Waste Minimization & Recycling -$9.141M
- Endocrine Disruptors -$7.502M
- Pollution Prevention Program -$12.194M
- Toxic Substances: Lead Risk Reduction Program -$13.203M
- National Estuary Program / Coastal Waterways -$26.542M
- Water: Human Health Protection Beach / Fish Programs -$1.638M
- Water Quality Protection Marine Pollution -$10.102M
- Water Quality Research and Support Grants -$12.614M
- Categorical Grant: Radon -$7.996M
- Categorical Grant: Lead -$13.954M
- Categorical Grant: Underground Storage Tanks -$1.488M
- Categorical Grant: Beaches Protection -$9.484M
- Categorical Grant: Nonpoint Source (Sec. 319) -$169,754M
The EPA budget also focuses on creating revenue for the agency. EPA is proposing several new fees in FY 2019 to better align appropriated resources to the Agency’s core mission, provide dedicated funding sources for specific activities and to better align program costs with beneficiaries. To increase compliance in industry, EPA proposes establishing two new voluntary user fees. According to the agency, these fees will enable EPA to provide compliance assistance services to both Risk Management Plan facilities as well as Facility Response Plan and Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure facilities.
While there are some new and interesting ideas in the FY 2019 EPA budget proposal, it’s largely a retread of last year’s proposal. And, much like last year’s EPA budget proposal, most of its ideas won’t last very long on Capitol Hill. The proposals will face stiff opposition from members of both parties in Congress and it’s unlikely to be taken up with any more consequence than it’s substantially similar predecessor 12 months ago.
Some of the novel policy ideas in the White House’s infrastructure plan, released at the same time as its EPA Budget, may stand a better chance. Indeed, while many are saying the President's budget and infrastructure plan are both dead on arrival, many of the reforms to brownfields, Superfund, project finance, liability protections and grant eligibility seem to be extremely well received and may have life beyond the four corners of these specific White House proposals.
Congress is working in parallel on these issues right now, after repeated efforts in recent years on various brownfield and Superfund legislation. It even managed to pass a bipartisan brownfield bill last fall able to garner over 400 votes in the House of Representatives, which went even further to expand EPA brownfield grant eligibility.
With so much interest on both sides of the aisle and in multiple branches, chambers and agencies of government, there seems to be a chance that substantial land revitalization legislation could materialize and become law.
To learn more about how the Agency accomplishes its mission, including information on the organizational structure and regional offices, please visit: http://www.epa.gov/aboutepa
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