Trump Is Trying to Eliminate EPA Programs, 'Putting the Country and the Planet in Jeopardy,' Expert Says

Environmental experts have slammed the Trump administration's proposed federal budget for fiscal year 2021, saying it could "virtually eliminate" climate programs overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

For the fourth year in a row, the administration has proposed slashing funding for the EPA (in this case by 26 percent) while seeking to get rid of programs focused on improving water quality, reducing air pollution, protecting drinking water, promoting the safe use of pesticides and toxic substances and cleaning up contaminated land, according to the Environmental Protection Network (EPN)—a bipartisan organization whose membership is comprised of former EPA officials.

Mustafa Ali, an EPN member and former EPA Senior Advisor for Environmental Justice and Community Revitalization, said that if the latest budget proposals for the agency—which do not even mention the words "climate change"—were approved by Congress, the impact would be "devastating."

"If [the budget] was able to move forward in the form that it's currently in, it's just amazing the additional damage that it will do, because it guts the majority of any program inside of the EPA that even touches climate change and the impacts that are happening from the climate emergency," Ali told Newsweek.

According to the EPN, the proposed budget looks to eliminate funding for around 50 EPA environmental programs. These include the EnergyStar program, which helps businesses and individuals save money and protect the environment by helping them to achieve greater energy efficiency, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

"For me, it's an important program because it actually connects people to the environment even when they may not necessarily be thinking about that right away," Ali said. "It's an important way of helping people to sort of be connected on a basic level."

The administration is also looking to cut funding for programs that seek to protect and restore some of the most important bodies of water in the country, such as San Francisco Bay, Long Island Sound and the Gulf of Mexico.

Notably, several of the proposed budget cuts are directed at programs that protect low-income, minority and indigenous communities, which are particularly vulnerable to environmental harms like polluted air, water and land.

For example, the budget includes 71 percent cuts to the Environmental Justice program, which helps address environmental burdens on vulnerable communities. Meanwhile, the budget looks to reduce funding for the EPA's Superfund program, which was established to clean up the nation's worst hazardous waste sites.

Furthermore, the budget proposes 94 percent cuts to two programs that support basic drinking water and sanitation infrastructure, such as flushing toilets and running water, for poor, remote Alaska Native rural villages and low-income communities along the U.S.-Mexico border, which disproportionately lack these kinds of services.

President Donald Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters at the White House on February 11, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

"The [budget] does even more damage to our most vulnerable communities—communities of color, low-income communities and indigenous communities—because not only does [it] cut significant resources on the climate side, but then they also are cutting the work on the environmental justice side," Ali said. "So it's really a double whammy for vulnerable communities."

"The majority of the fossil fuel facilities are located in communities of color, so they get hit from the pollution that's coming up, but that same pollution is also warming up our oceans and the planet. So anytime you make cuts to these programs, and we allow additional pollution into the atmosphere, these are the communities that get hit first and worse, although it impacts everyone."

According to the EPN, Trump's budget cuts $219 million (43 percent) from the EPA's funding for scientific research, which could diminish the agency's capacity to protect the health of American citizens and the environment.

"Along with proposing cuts in EPA science funding, the agency has been waging a virtual war on science, replacing independent scientists with energy industry employees on science review bodies, ignoring science findings in shaping rules and even proposing a rule requiring EPA to ignore reliable scientific evidence in rule-making," Caren Kagan Evans, a spokesperson for the EPN, told Newsweek.

The EPN says that the proposed cuts to scientific research would be particularly felt at the state and local level. In fact, the administration has proposed a 44 percent reduction in funds to help states operate their own environmental programs.

"The reality is on the ground, whether on the state or the local level, is where we really have to help people to be able to make positive change happen," Ali said. "But there's not one of the things that they're cutting that's more important than the other because it's really a holistic sort of set of opportunities. And that's really what many of these things are, they're opportunities for us to do the right thing."

"I've never seen an administration that was so short-sighted and was actually putting the country and the planet in jeopardy," he said. "The choices that they're making, if allowed to move forward, will take generations upon generations to fix. And unfortunately, we don't have that type of time."

Ali stressed that the worst impacts of climate change in the future would be felt by the vulnerable communities put at risk by the latest budget.

"For vulnerable communities who have the least amount of resources and can't just get up to move, when the storms or fires and other things happen—you're putting the crosshairs directly on [them,]" he said.

While Congress has previously rejected the president's attempts to cut funding for the EPA—whose budget has not fallen since his time in office—and is likely to do so again, Ali says that the signs from the administration are worrying.

"We've been lucky over the last few years that when it comes to the EPA that folks have pushed back against the president and his budgets. But you never know in this atmosphere what folks are going to do. And unfortunately, we can't have any of these initiatives to be weakened," he said.

Despite the fact that the EPA's overall budget has not fallen under the current president, the agency lost 8 percent of its staff in the first 18 months of his administration due to high numbers of departing employees and a low rate of new hires, The Washington Post reported.

The EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) has been particularly badly affected by these losses—a trend which the Union of Concerned Scientists has described as "disturbing." This means that there are fewer EPA staff ensuring that businesses and other organizations are living up to their environmental responsibilities under the law.

"If you look at the enforcement work that's happening at the agency, there have been significant cuts in that space. And that's critical, because you have to have a strong enforcement programme so people know that there's real accountability in the process, that folks are going to be out there looking and watching and analyzing," Ali said. "The enforcement programme is a critical component of making sure that real environmental protection is happening."

In a statement provided to Newsweek, an EPA spokesperson responded to the EPN's criticisms of the 2021 budget proposals.

"The President's FY 2021 budget proposal maintains the Administration's focus on EPA's core mission—providing Americans with clean air, land and water, and ensuring chemical safety, while targeting emerging domestic and global environmental challenges," the spokesperson said. "The Budget prioritizes core work that is tethered to the environmental statutes passed by Congress and it eliminates programs that are duplicative with programs at other federal agencies.

"Under this budget proposal, EPA will continue to build on our success and continue to implement programs within the Atmospheric Protection program and other primary core missions. Under this Administration, we are providing regulatory certainty and we are taking reasonable action to ensure continued economic growth while protecting human health and our environment."

This article was updated to include a statement from the EPA.