White House 2020 Budget Takes Aim at Popular EPA Cleanup Programs
Water, lead, beach protection, brownfield grants and Superfund cleanup programs all fall under a big axe in the Trump Administration’s latest budget proposal for FY 2020.
Yesterday, the Trump Administration released another proposed budget that set a record as the largest in American history, even as it suggested dramatic cuts to numerous federal agencies and programs. As part of the White House’s broader budgetary roll out, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its own detailed budget with cuts appearing nearly universally across the board of agency’s areas of activity.
“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 in a statement. “I am proud of the tremendous progress that EPA and its partners have made in cleaning our nation’s air, water and land, and I am looking forward to continuing this progress through FY 2020.”
EPA’s budget provides a total of $6.1 billion to support the agency’s mission of protecting human health and the environment, nearly 1/3 less than the prior year. Though, in a statement, the agency affirmed that the budget proposal “maintains EPA’s focus on its core mission – providing Americans with clean air, land and water, and ensuring chemical safety.”
The White House’s 2020 spending blueprint for the agency would see EPA reduce most or all federal support for programs cleaning up various major bodies of water, most of which suffer from centuries of industrial revolution and struggling from pollution, over-development and the invasion of non-native species.
The biggest loser would be the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which was launched during the Obama Administration in 2010 to tackle legacy contamination burdening the repository of nearly 1/5th of all the freshwater on the planet. Since its launch, the broadly invested initiative has funded ~$2.4 billion into more than 4,700 projects across the Great Lakes region to remediate contamination, removed toxic sludge and sediment and improve harbors and habitats.
The 2020 EPA budget proposal from the Trump Administration funds the Great Lakes Initiative at a mere $30 million, which would constitute a 90% reduction from the ~$300 million in recent years.
The big haircut is in line with the Trump Administration’s long-held position that states and local governments should bear the burden of nursing the nation’s waters back to health, as well as previous budgetary proposals. Its last budget proposal eliminated all but two of EPA’s geographic programs including the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Champlain, Long Island Sound, Lake Pontchartrain, S. New England Estuary, South Florida, San Francisco Bay and Puget Sound. The remaining programs were Great Lakes Restoration (reduced to $30M (as in the latest budget) and Chesapeake Bay (reduced from $65M to just $7.3M).
Yet, even while gutting federal programs investing in America’s water instructure on the one hand, EPA’s statement highlights ways in which the agency will provide additional “critical water infrastructure investments for communities across America.” It provides:
The 2020 EPA budget proposal also establishes a new program targeting the need for healthier environments at the nation’s schools. “Approximately 50 million American children spend their time in K-12 school facilities every day,” EPA noted. Yet “many of these buildings are old and contain environmental hazards that could pose a risk to children’s health.” To address this issue, the budget proposes establishing a new $50 million grant program to assist communities in identifying and remediating these hazards in order to eliminate the environmental risks posed to America’s children everyday and creating safer and healthier school environments.
The budget also provides $1 billion for the Hazardous Substance Superfund Account, reduced by roughly $100 million from the prior year. The relatively small decline is a departure from the approach in the previous Trump Administration proposal for FY19, which substantially reduced the Superfund program before ultimately restoring hundreds of millions of funding to Superfund in supplemental budget proposals following ubiquitous bipartisan rebukes from all corners of the country where the nation’s many un-remediated Superfund sites reside.
In highlighting its efforts on Superfund, the agency noted that it had made significant progress identifying impediments to clean-up at sites with significant exposure risks and developing action plans to overcome those impediments. Through its focused effort via the Superfund Task Force, the agency has operated in multiple dimensions to reevaluate and reconsider the program’s highest and best function. In its budget proposal, EPA also highlighted its heightened efforts to work with prospective site purchasers, developers and responsible parties to bring more private funding for redevelopment.
“Reducing exposure to hazardous substances and revitalizing contaminated land for use by the community” through the Superfund program, the agency’s budget says, “is a priority and a fundamental part of EPA’s core mission.”
On redevelopment beyond the rather limited Superfund list, the agency also notes in its budget proposal that approximately 129 million people (roughly 40% of the U.S. population) live within 3 miles of a brownfield site that receives EPA funding. The 2020 budget proposal highlights a 2017 study that found housing property values increased 5-15.2% near brownfield sites when cleanup was completed. EPA also lists another 2017 study of 48 brownfield sites that showed an estimated $29 to $97 million in additional tax revenue generated for local governments in a single year after cleanup, which was between 2 and 7 times more than the $12.4 million EPA contributed to the cleanup of those brownfields. By awarding its competitive, catalytic brownfields grants, “EPA is making investments in communities so that they can realize their visions for environmental health, economic growth, and job creation,” EPA’s proposed budget continued in praise of the beloved brownfield program.
As of November 2018, grants awarded by the program have led to over 77,000 acres of idle land made ready for productive use, over 141,300 jobs created and $26.8 billion leveraged, according to the agency. During FY 2018, 861 brownfields were made ready for anticipated use (RAU). And for FY 2020, EPA announced its intentions to continue to make additional brownfields sites RAU by funding the brownfield program “to advance Brownfields work and continue these positive returns to the environment, public health, and the economy.”
But the Brownfields Program itself and the grants it awards take big hits in the EPA’s 2020 budget proposal. The Brownfields Program is reduced from $25.6 million in the prior year to just $16.7 million, an $8.9 million difference. Meanwhile, EPA’s storied brownfield grant program–with its long history of success leveraging an incredible ~$18 for every $1 through the program–is cut by 33.4%. So, under the Trump Administration’s EPA budget proposal for FY 2020, the brownfield grant program is taken down to $31.8 million from $47.8 million in the prior year.
State and Tribal Assistance Grants (STAG) for brownfield projects were also reduced by $18 million to $62 million. Overall, STAGs would lose roughly a billion dollars under the budget proposal.
These funding levels are a significant departure from the $200 million potential brownfield program funding level Congress authorized (but did not allocate) in the nation’s first reauthorization of the EPA Brownfields Program, which President Trump signed into law in 2018. If history repeats, these proposed cuts to the brownfield program may actually result in a small increase, as the $47.8 million funded to the EPA brownfields grant program last year was roughly a million dollars more than it received in the prior year.
With the Democratic party now in control of the House of Representatives, it’s difficult to say whether the future of the Trump Administration’s budget proposals for EPA and otherwise will repeat the history of its prior proposals. But with broad bipartisan support for Superfund, brownfields and water programs and other core EPA competencies, to say nothing of massive local support for these largely flow through funds, it seems unlikely these popular, effective programs will unduly suffer.
If history is a guide, then the rather large constituency of diverse brownfield heroes and advocates strewn across every district in the country is already bristling at these budget proposals.
Other Proposed EPA Budget Cuts
- Underground Storage Tanks $0 (-$1,498M) -100.0%
- Pesticides & Toxics Pesticides Program Implementation $8,457M (-$4,244M) -33.4%
- Lead $0 ($14,049M) -100.0%
- Toxics Substances Compliance $3,276 ($1,643) -33.4%
- Pesticides Enforcement $10,531 (-$7,519) -41.7%
- Water Pollution Control (Sec. 106) $153,683M ($77,123M) -33.4%
- Beaches Protection $0 (-$9,549M) -100.0%
- Nonpoint Source (Sec. 319) $0 (-$170,915M) -100.0%
- Wetlands Program Development $9,762M (-$4,899) -33.4%
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