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Trump’s Trying to Chainsaw Nearly Every Environmental Program

As expected, President Trump’s proposed federal budget delivers a wind-sucking gut-punch to the Environmental Protection Agency. If the president has his way, the regulatory agency will lose nearly one-third of its 2016 budget of $8.1 billion, mostly through deep cuts to climate, clean air, and environmental restoration programs like Superfund.

Of course, the odds of Congress actually adopting Trump’s entire plan are slim—though Republicans probably won’t have too many conflicts with his environmental axe-slinging. Still, the document provides key insights into the president’s priorities, attitudes, and thinking. And he clearly takes aim at a slew of federal agencies and programs that seek to protect the planet. Across nearly every appendage of the executive body, his budget treats such projects like malignant growths. But not always. The budget recommends a few notable increases. Let’s dive in.

EPA

Proposed budget: $5.7 billion

Total cuts: $2.1 billion

Best to start with the biggie. The EPA’s cuts are broad and deep, with total reduction of 31 percent over 2016.

  • The headline here is Trump’s call to completely defund the $100 million Clean Power Plan—President Obama’s sweeping, and embattled, regulation forcing coal power plants to reduce carbon emissions. That figure includes related programs for internal and international climate change research.
  • The EPA funds a lot of water projects as well, and in some cases Trump left these alone. The Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation programs, which helps shore up federal and regional water projects, saw no change to its $20 million budget. In other cases, he gave them a boost, like the $4 million he gave to the EPA’s State Revolving Funds, which helps with state-level infrastructure like sewage, aqueducts, and so on. That program’s total budget under this spending plan is $2.3 billion.
  • Trump apparently thinks the EPA pays too much attention to pollution. His budget orders a $330 million cut from the Superfund program, which cleans up severely polluted parcels of land or stretches of water, dropping its budget to $762 million. He took an even bigger bite from the Categorical Grants Program, leaving $597 million to dole out to states and Native American tribes that want to develop air quality, climate-focused, or water-cleaning projects. The only group that gets room to breathe are the polluters—Trump’s budget cuts $129 million from the EPA’s enforcement division’s$419 million budget. The enforcers might be fine with less money, because the $233 million cut from the EPA’s research budget leaves that group with just $250 million to figure out which chemicals are bad enough to warrant enforcing.
  • And then there’s the potpourri: Trump’s plan eliminates 50 other EPA programs, like Energy Star, endocrine disruptor screening, and infrastructure assistance to Native Alaskan villages at risk from climate change. All told, the cuts come to $482 million.

Department of Energy

Proposed budget: $28 billion

Total cuts: $1.7 billion

The DOE was another big target for the Trump administration. Of course, DOE Secretary Rick Perry once famously bragged that he would eliminate the agency completely, even if he has since walked that back after learning what the agency actually does. Trump proposes a mix of cuts and boosts, in largely predictable fashion.

  • The big surprise? A bump in spending for Yucca Mountain—the proposed nuclear waste repository in the Nevada desert. This is an iiinteresting choice of windfall for a few reasons. First, Trump owns property in Las Vegas, not far from the rail lines that will carrying nuclear waste to the site. Second, the $120 million increase probably isn’t nearly enough to prepare a hugely controversial site bogged down for decades in environmental reviews and protests. This is curious, given how much money Trump has slated to the department’s Environmental Management (read: nuclear cleanup) program: $6.5 billion.
  • When Perry called for eliminating the DOE, he probably thought only of its clean energy research. Trump has his back. His budget proposes completely eliminating ARPA-E’s$350 million budget, killing a program that incubates clean energy technologies until they are ready to commercialize. But that’s a pittance compared to the $2 billion Trump’s budget would claw back from other clean energy programs, from the Office of Energy Efficiency (self-explanatory) to the Office of Fossil Energy (which funds research into things like the carbon capture and storage technology that Ken Bone was boned up over at a debate last fall).
  • Trump’s budget writer Mick Mulvaney probably got a little ahead of himself when he lopped $900 million off the DOE’s Office of Science, which remains the nation’s single largest funder of basic chemistry, physics, and energy research .

Department of Interior

Proposed budget: $11.6 billion

Total cuts: $1.5 billion

The DOI oversees the National Park system, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs—iconic agencies crucial to the US’s national identity, not to mention national resources. Trump’s cuts are mostly vague. The budget presents few line item reductions here, favoring mealy-mouthed management patois like “streamline” to describe the hatchet-job he favors.

  • For instance, he promises to “budget responsibly” the DOI’s wildfire suppression program—which members of both parties recognize is hugely underfunded, and “focus funding” for money that goes to improving the landscape and lives of various unnamed Native American tribes.
  • Not to say the DOI’s portion of the budget is all dance and not dagger. Trump calls for cutting $120 million from land acquisition programs, which allow the agency to purchase or designate new federally-protected areas, and completely eliminating contributions to Abandoned Mine Land grants (which help keep nasty chemicals out of the environment), National Heritage Areas, and National Wildlife Refuges.
  • Trump’s budget carves up the Interior, and then it throws the agency a bone: $900 million for the US Geological Survey’s scientific work, including the LandSat-9 satellite mapping program.

Department of Agriculture

Proposed budget: $17.9 billion

Total cuts: $4.7 billion

Ag ain’t just cows and corn. The agency also manages the nation’s national forests, and research that maintains the health of food-growing ecosystems.

  • Trump’s budget make a recurring theme of eliminating overlap between similar programs at different agencies. Remember his promise to “budget” Interior’s wildfire fighting “responsibly?” That probably means he and Mulvaney (but really just Mulvaney) noticed that the Department of Agriculture has a similar program. The budget allows $2.4 billion for both suppression (fighting fires that break out) and preparedness (off-season work to clear brush and ensure any fires are somewhat manageable). The budget says its allotment is a full-funding, based on a 10-year average for wildfire fighting. Problem there is, fighting wildfires has been going way over budget for about that long. And with climate change—boo!—desiccating forests, that budget is probably going to burn away earlier and earlier each season.
  • In another effort to reduce redundancy (this time with EPA clean water programs), Trump’s budget cuts $498 million from the Ag Department’s Water and Wastewater loan and grant program that provides money to rural communities looking to avoid drinking pesticides, lead, and raw sewage.
  • And another non-surprise, Trump’s budget calls for unspecified cuts to the National Forest Service’s programs for acquiring new property.

Department of Commerce

Proposed budget: $7.8 billion

Total cuts: $1.5 billion

Commerce? What does commerce have to do with the environment? Ever heard of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration? It is the nation’s primary source of weather data and forecasting. It also does some research, which, perhaps all too predictably, Trump throttles for dollars.

  • Trump spared NOAA’s core business: the geostationary and polar satellites that monitor weather, and the National Weather Service itself, which turns those satellite observations into the forecasts that wreck your weekend plans.
  • Speaking of forecasts, the outlook is cloudy with a chance of $250 million in cuts for NOAA’s grant and loans programs, which fund independent scientists doing coastal or marine surveys. This includes Sea Grant, which looks for sustainable ways to do business on America’s shores.

Department of Homeland Security

Proposed budget: $44.1 billion

Total boosts: $2.8 billion

The DHS is one of the few executive offices that Trump thinks deserves a raise. And that’s not because it encompasses FEMA, the federal backstop that saves (or at least, tries … sometimes) people from losing everything after natural disasters. No, most of the budget surplus goes to, you guessed it, border security and immigration. Unfortunately for the millions of Americans who live in flood prone regions, Trump’s budget calls for cutting $190 million from the National Flood Insurance Program, another program that enjoys fairly broad bipartisan support.

State Department

Proposed budget: $25.6 billion

Total cuts: $10.1 billion

Why is this here? The State Department is the executor of several promises past US presidents have made to donate money to international climate efforts. Under the axe? The Global Climate Initiative, the Green Climate Fund, and several earlier commitments. Those cuts won’t come without some compromise—or, in Trump-ese, deal-making. See, the only reason the US pays into those climate funds is because prior administrations have promised them in exchange for other concessions in the ongoing, and annual, international climate negotiations. Reneging on these promises won’t endear the US to its developing world allies, not to mention China.

NASA

Proposed budget: $19.1 billion

Total cuts: $200 million

Trump mostly supports space exploration, unless the bit of space being explored is the only known planet capable of supporting life: Earth. His budget calls for immediately cutting four Earth science missions: PACE (ocean health), OCO-3 (carbon measurement), DISCOVR (amazing full-disk imagery), and CLARREO (measures changes in the climate).

Department of Transportation

Proposed budget: $16.2 billion

Total cuts: $2.4 billion

Travel is one of the biggest contributors to both pollution and climate change. And whether it’s through financing cross-country train trips, or funding mass transit options, USDOT has some pretty important programs.

  • Like the TIGER program, which grants money to metropolitan areas that want to develop multi-modal (read: non-car) transportation projects like light rail, which (if done right) can help significantly improve air quality, reduce carbon emissions, and alleviate gridlock. But no, Trump would rather give that $499 million back to taxpayers. Which, if refunded evenly, would give every taxpayer in the nation about $1.40.
  • Or maybe just divert that into the FAST program, which goes for developing big highway or freight projects. Trump’s budget advocates adding $900 million there. But if the goal is to alleviate traffic, don’t count on bigger or more plentiful roads to do the trick. Multiple studies on the law of induced demand have shown that any added road capacity quickly runs out—leaving drivers honking for more lanes in a vicious cycle.
  • And if long waits in traffic leave you wistful for a quietly rocking train, you might be in luck. Trump’s plan calls for more funding for regional Amtrak services. Those extra locomotives on the Northeast corridor would come at a cost, though. Say goodbye to your dreams of a cross-country trip by rail: This budget eliminates long-distance Amtrak lines.

Overall, the Trump budget fits his messaging. Not only in its targets—the president has made no secret of his antipathy towards environmental projects and regulations of any sort—but also in its presentation. The budget is relatively shy on hard details. Now the buck is passed to Congress, which will have to press Trump’s administration for more details, while fighting over the few this budget contains.

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