EPA plan to focus on hazardous areas that pollute air and water, often near low-income communities and minorities, was dashed by presidents budget proposal
Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitts vow to shift the agency back towards the vital work of dealing with toxic sites that pollute air and water has been dashed by a White House budget plan that would slash funding for the clean-ups.
Donald Trumps 2018 budget plan proposes severe cuts to clean-up programs targeting some of the most toxic sites in the US, which are invariably situated near low-income communities and minorities, despite a push by the EPA to prioritize these hazardous areas.
This month, Pruitt issued a directive that instructed the agency to quicken its response to polluted areas known as Superfund sites, where industrial activity or toxic accidents have tainted the air, water or soils.
In an internal memo, Pruitt said he will take oversight of Superfund remedial efforts, promising that the clean-ups will be restored to their rightful place at the center of the agencys core mission. There are more than 1,700 Superfund sites such as shuttered factories, quarries and landfills in the US, with a disproportionate number situated beside communities of color.
But Trumps budget proposal, set to be fully unveiled on Tuesday, would reduce funding for those clean-ups by nearly a third, while the budget for enforcing Superfund remedies with businesses would be slashed by almost 40%. The EPA budget documents were obtained and released by the National Association of Clean Air Agencies.
Furthermore, the EPAs environmental justice office, which champions the rights of communities burdened by pollution, would be closed down and the civil rights program would experience an 18% funding decrease.
Congress will have the responsibility for setting federal spending but Trumps budget request makes clear that the administration wants to pare down the EPA while increasing military spending and paying for a border wall with Mexico. Trump envisages cuts that would see the EPAs total budget shrink by nearly one third from $8.2bn to $5.65bn its lowest level, adjusting for inflation, in 40 years.
Trumps proposed budget eliminates several programs, with deep cuts to renewable energy and climate change-related initiatives. In March, Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, said climate research is a waste of your money. The 2018 plan would:
- Reduce funding for the science and technology arm of the EPA by nearly 40% to $450m.
- Cut grants to states for their own environmental protections from $3.6bn to 2.9bn.
- Eliminate funding for the protection of major water ecosystems including the Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico, the Puget Sound and the Great Lakes.
- Remove all $19m in help for Alaskan native villages that are threatened by warming temperatures and sea level rise.
- Reduce funding for drinking water health programs by $16m to $80m.
- Scrap the $8m used to fund the greenhouse gas reporting program, which lists carbon emissions from industrial facilities.
However, it is unlikely that Trumps plan for the EPA will come to fruition, with some Republicans in Congress indicating that they believe the cuts go too far.
Charlie Dent, a Republican congressman who sits on the House appropriations committee, said: We want a functioning EPA and want their decisions to be based on best practices and science. I dont think anyone is here to kill the agency, were here to make it work better.
Catherine Lhamon, chair of the US Commission on Civil Rights, told the Guardian: If this budget is implemented, it will be at best a backward step and at worst extremely harmful to communities of color nationwide.
Last year, the commission released a report scathing of the EPAs extreme delays in responding to civil rights complaints in the area of environmental justice. It found that the agencys civil rights office had never made a formal finding of discrimination in its history.
The Obama administration created a new plan, called EJ2020, to address some of these problems but its future is now uncertain, with the EPA declining to comment on whether the strategy is to be scrapped.
An EPA spokeswoman said: We are still evaluating ways to comply with the presidents budget, and administrator Pruitt is committed to the idea that all programs need to work directly with communities who have been underserved by EPA.
Lhamon said: Civil rights and environmental justice are already seriously under resourced within the EPA. Cutting resources yet further will not help. Environmental justice concerns will exist even if the office doesnt and racial discrimination will persist even if the office of civil rights doesnt have the staff to address it.
Bill Becker, head of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, said: In short, these cuts will result in more people dying prematurely and getting sick unnecessarily.
These cuts will mean delays in meeting health-based air quality standards, less inspections against noncomplying facilities, decreased monitoring in metropolitan areas, and fewer agency staff to address air quality problems.