Knives Are Brandished at the Environmental Protection Agency

In concert with its initiative to reduce the Environmental Protection Agency's programs, the Trump Administration has proposed to slash its budget 31 percent.

By Patrick Crow

In concert with its initiative to reduce the Environmental Protection Agency’s programs, the Trump Administration has proposed to slash its budget 31 percent.

President Donald Trump has directed EPA to reconsider the controversial Waters of the U.S. rule (see WW, April 2017). He also voided several Obama administration climate change policies and abolished the Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases.

The latest blow was a proposal to cut EPA’s staff 19 percent and reduce its fiscal 2018 funding $2.6 billion to $5.7 billion. No federal agency fared worse in the administration’s budget request than EPA.

Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said EPA still would have adequate funding for its core missions. But he stressed, “The President wants a smaller EPA. He thinks they overreach.”

Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, said, “Out of every ten dollars the government spends, EPA only gets two cents. The agency’s budget is tiny by comparison to other government spending and has already been cut substantially in recent years.”

The administration’s budget request would maintain the current $2.3 billion for the drinking water and wastewater state revolving funds and $20 million for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) program. It would zero-out more than 50 other programs at EPA.

Ultimately Congress, not the administration, will determine EPA’s fiscal 2018 funding. And legislators are unlikely to debilitate the agency or abolish politically popular programs such as those to protect the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes.

In fact, 66 members of the House of Representatives quickly served notice that they would fight to maintain the full $300 million funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Projects on the chopping block within EPA’s Office of Water may include the Water Sector Risk Reduction, the Water Security Initiative, and the Water Alliance for Threat Reduction.

The WaterSense program also could be in jeopardy, according to Mary Ann Dickinson, president and CEO of the Alliance for Water Efficiency. The 10-year-old program identifies consumer products that are at least 20 percent more water efficient than standard products but do not sacrifice performance.

“Because the WaterSense program has never been congressionally authorized, it does not have its own budget line item, and for the past ten years it has been funded only at the discretion of the EPA administrator. Although we have not yet heard that the program is specifically targeted for elimination, the depth of cuts to the EPA budget certainly suggest that the WaterSense program is likely to be at grave risk of losing its funding,” Dickinson said.

“For an annual federal investment of only $2 million, it provides significant economic value to the country and to water utilities and their customers in particular. It has saved an estimated 1.5 trillion gallons of water,” she said.

Even more changes are in prospect at EPA. In accord with President Trump’s directive that federal agencies revoke two regulations for every new one that they issue, EPA will appraise the rules already on its books.

Administrator Scott Pruitt has put the agency’s seven program offices to the task. After the offices consult with industry stakeholders, an EPA Regulatory Reform Task Force will recommend to Pruitt which rules can be repealed, replaced or modified to make them less burdensome.

About the Author: Patrick Crow covered the U.S. Congress and federal agencies for 21 years as a reporter for industry magazines. He has reported on water issues for the past 15 years. Crow is now an Austin, Texas-based freelance writer.

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