WASHINGTON — A wide slew of Environmental Protection Agency programs could be under the knife to meet President Donald Trump’s budget proposal requirements, a source told CNN Wednesday night.
The source spelled out details of an Office of Management and Budget proposal that would cut the EPA’s budget by 24% and reduce its staffing by 20%. Some of the EPA’s most longstanding and best-known programs are facing potential elimination — including initiatives aimed at improving water and air quality as well as a number of regulations tasked with reducing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Other programs include the Environmental Justice program, which is meant to help local communities grapple with environmental concerns, and Global Change Research, a program funded by several agencies, including the EPA, which reports humans’ impact on the planet.
The Clean Power Plan, which could also be recommended for cuts, was an initiative by former President Barack Obama meant to reduce carbon emissions from each state. Fourteen separate EPA partnership programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could also be on the chopping block.
Also among the programs up for elimination are multi-purpose grants to states and tribes, Energy Star grants, Science to Achieve Results (STAR) graduate fellowships, the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act and initiatives aimed at environmental protections along the US-Mexico border.
Some of the grants recommended for elimination could be matching grants for local projects around the country, the source added.
Ken Cook, the head of the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy and research organization, told CNN in a statement: “The Trump administration has decided fence-line communities across the country, whose residents already bear an outsized burden from pollution, are on their own to take on big polluters.”
The EPA did not return a request for comment about the recommendation for budget cuts and staff reduction. CNN has also reached out to the White House for comment.
John Coequyt, a campaign director of the progressive environmental group Sierra Club, called the plan ludicrous and said the administration wouldn’t be able to get signoff on these cuts from the legislative side. He also argued that zeroing out the Environmental Justice program, which focuses on fair protection from environmental and health hazards for people of all races and incomes, has racial motivations.
“To cut the Environmental Justice program at EPA is just racist,” he said. “I can’t imagine it’s an office that runs up much cost. I can’t describe it in any other terms than a move to leave those communities behind. I can’t imagine what the justification would be, other than racism.”
The sizable cuts won’t play well around the country, he added.
“States and Congress won’t go for this. They are proposing cutting programs that are connected to jobs in states and programs that address environmental issues,” Coequyt said.
The Trump administration has put together a budget calling for an more than $50 billion increase in defense spending and an equal cut to non-defense spending to make up the balance. Trump’s budget director, OMB chief Mick Mulvaney, unveiled the proposal Monday at the White House, and a source told CNN to expect calls for substantial cuts to the State Department and the EPA.
Asked by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday about possible cuts, newly-minted EPA administrator Scott Pruitt said it is “very important to protect” grants that are meant to help states with water infrastructure, and he believes the EPA has a “very important role” managing air and water quality across the country. Still, he tried to reassure those concerned about potential budget cuts and layoffs, saying the process is ongoing.
“What we need to realize is this is the beginning of the process, not the end of the process,” Pruitt said.
The source who told CNN about the plan pointed out that Pruitt was so far the only permanent political employee at the agency.
In an interview Tuesday evening with E&E, an environmental policy-focused news outlet, Pruitt said he is concerned about cuts to grants and that he has spoken to Mulvaney about them.
“I am concerned about the grants that have been targeted, particularly around water infrastructure, and those very important state revolving funds,” Pruitt said.
Pruitt was previously the Oklahoma attorney general and led lawsuits against the EPA during the Obama administration. Emails released after his confirmation to lead the EPA showed behind-the-scenes collaboration with oil industry officials. Despite his past statements on climate science, Pruitt said at his confirmation that he did not believe climate change was a “hoax.” However, he said climate change needs more debate, even though the overwhelming scientific consensus has said humanity is warming the planet through its release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.