Donald Trump’s latest $4.75tln budget for the 2020 fiscal year has set the stage for another major showdown with Congress over funding of the Environmental Protection Agency. His self-titled "A Budget for a Better America" sets out a 31% decline in the EPA’s budget to $6.1bn [compared to the 2019 estimate of $8.8bn], equivalent to the loss of $2.8bn in a single year.
Figure 1: EPA budget ($billions)
But we have been here before. Back in 2017 the president attempted a similar scale hacking of the EPA budget (among others) by 31% in fiscal 2018 (EA 20-Mar-17) and 23% in 2019 (EA 13-Feb-18). Both times both the House and Senate appropriations committees have gone on to enact spending bills to fund the EPA at near current levels. Given Democrats have told Trump the budget is "dead on arrival" [Sen. Leahy] and "breathtaking in its degree of cruelty" [Sen. Sanders], it seems unlikely to pass.
Trump’s budget claims to continue the EPA’s core mission to ensure clean air, water, and land, and safer chemicals while reducing "regulatory burden and eliminating lower-priority activities". But if Trump has his way, the EPA will need to do this with 2,000 fewer full-time staff next year, down 13% year-on-year to 12,400.
Figure 2: EPA FTE staff numbers
An analysis of spending by its "core mission" shows the impacts the cuts would have if they were passed. Spending on improving air quality would fall from 46% to $425m; spending on clean and safe water will fall by 39% to $2.7bn; spending on revitalising land and reducing contamination will fall by 21% to $1.1bn; while spend on chemical safety is relatively protected with a fall of 6% to $226m.
The budget claims to allocate funding for water infrastructure as well as brownfield and superfund schemes, however the figures indicate at a much reduced rate. Superfund clean-up budgets will fall by 15% to $668m, state and tribal assistance grants – which include allocations for brownfield, lead testing in drinking water, clean water infrastructure and drinking water infrastructure – will fall by 30% to $2.2bn.
EPA priorities remain the redefining of the Waters of the US Rule (WOTUS), the replacement of Obama’s 2015 Clean Power Plan, as well as the ongoing revision of regulations and optimisation of the permitting process.