Yesterday, the Trump administration released an outline of the President’s first budget proposal to Congress—and it’s worse than we thought. This “skinny” budget, which is light on specific details for how money would be distributed between different government programs, is essentially a political document to show the president’s priorities.
This document does illustrate Trump’s vision for how the federal government should operate. And that vision is disturbing. The plan includes a long list of ideas that can be grouped under some major themes:
- That working to stop climate change is a “waste of money.”
- That programs designed to serve rural America, widely credited with electing him into the White House, are unnecessary.
- That states, most of which are struggling with long-running budget shortfalls, should pick up the cost of environmental protection and responding to health emergencies.
- That diverting resources from government programs designed to protect people and communities is a justifiable way to pay for a buildup of the military.
- That corporate profits matter more than people’s health or the environment.
Before we turn to the gory details of how Trump’s proposed cuts would affect our food, water and climate, remember – this is not a done deal. It’s the first step in a long process. This outline from the president is an opening bid in the process Congress will use to finalize government spending before the next fiscal year starts on October 1. That means your members of Congress need to hear from you, loud and clear, that the President’s vision is wrong and that you expect them to stand up for people’s health and the environment.
Environmental Protection Agency
Just as it has been throughout his campaign and first months in office, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was singled out for major abuse, with the biggest proposed cut (by percentage of its budget) of all federal agencies. The proposal calls for a 31% cut, taking the agency’s budget to a historic low, and calls for for 3,200 jobs (roughly one-fifth of the agency’s workforce) to be eliminated.
But the abuse doesn’t stop there. The proposal calls out specific programs for elimination, including:
- Energy Star (which provides efficiency ratings for appliances that saves consumers money on their utility bills);
- Regional water quality efforts such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Chesapeake Bay program
- Infrastructure assistance to Alaskan Native villages and Mexico border towns
- The Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program (which screens pesticides, chemicals, and environmental contaminants for potential impacts on human hormone systems)
And just because a program doesn’t appear on that list doesn’t mean it’s safe in the Trump budget plan. The plan proposes a 30% cut to Superfund (a program to clean up hazardous waste sites); a 23% cut to the Office of Enforcement (a move that could cripple the agency’s ability to actually go after companies that break our environmental laws and regulations); and a 45% cut to grants given to state and tribal governments to address an array of environmental issues ranging from radon, lead and pesticides to water pollution control. And it calls for up to 50 programs (not named) to be eliminated.
For many families who have been hit hardest by things like unsafe water or polluted air, these cuts to the EPA spell even more trouble. The EPA’s environmental justice office is another of the programs that could be in jeopardy, and without an agency that is strong enough to enforcing air and water quality standards or to help clean up polluted sites, many communities will be left with fewer protections than ever.
An EPA staffer and union official, John O’Grady, describes how dire these cuts are. If the EPA is “already on a starvation diet, with a bare-bones budget and staffing level” he says, then this proposal “will be akin to taking away the agency’s bread and water.”
The Trump proposal takes dead aim at federal efforts to stop (or even study) climate change, calling for the elimination of international climate change programs, climate change research and partnership programs, and EPA efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions. And the attack on climate change efforts goes beyond the EPA.
At the Department of Interior, the plan eliminates National Heritage Area grants to protect cultural and natural resources from development, eliminates some grants for abandoned mine land reclamation and calls for streamlining of the permitting process for industry to access “the energy resources America needs” on public lands – presumably speeding up oil, gas, coal and timber extraction from public lands — including offshore drilling.
At the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the plan would eliminate $250 million in targeted grants and programs supporting coastal and marine management, research, and education, which would include efforts to study and prepare for climate change in coastal communities, which could bear the brunt of the damage from climate change.
The plan for the Department of Energy calls for $2 billion in cuts including eliminating weatherization assistance grants to low income families, cuts to funding to advanced energy research, and cuts to funding for federal and state programs to shift to renewable energy.
Food and Rural Communities
The proposal calls for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be cut by 21% and the Department of Health and Human Services (home to the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to be cut by 17.9%. It offers few details about how those cuts would actually be made, which leaves many unanswered questions about what could happen to programs dedicated to food safety and public health. (Importantly, the proposal does say the president would fully fund USDA’s meat and poultry inspection program.)
Other parts of the proposal demonstrate a striking disregard for the needs of rural communities and farmers, which is a slap in the face to those rural voters who helped him get elected. It calls for reduced staffing for service centers around the country that would seriously impact farmers and rural communities who need to access USDA programs and encourages privatization of programs dedicated to spreading conservation practices in farming. And it would cut USDA’s statistic-collection efforts, which play a vital role in helping agriculture markets and farmers themselves plan for future production. National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said “the president has put the needs of rural America and agriculture on the backburner, and, in many cases, on the chopping block.”
The proposal also attacks a program explicitly dedicated to helping small rural communities improve their water systems by eliminating a loan and grant program for clean water and sewer systems in communities with less than 10,000 people. The plan incorrectly calls this program “duplicative” because there are other federal programs for water infrastructure. But small water systems in rural areas are rarely able to access loans and grants (or private financing) when they are being compared to larger cities applying for the same funds. The National Rural Water Association summed it up this way: "This demonstrates how blind the Administration is to its rural constituency and the lack of knowledge of what is most effective in funding the majority of the nation's water and wastewater infrastructure."
One important program that escaped the axe in the Trump proposal for the EPA was State Revolving Funds (SRF) for water infrastructure. In fact, the proposal calls for a slight increase in the SRF program, bringing it up to $2.3 billion for 2018. But this is nowhere near what is needed to address infrastructure needs nationwide. Federal funding for water infrastructure has declined 82% since a peak in 1977, and it’s estimated that water utilities will need to spend at least $697 billion over the next twenty years to provide safe water and keep waterways clean.
Trump’s proposal also includes $20 million for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program, a new water financing program that will likely subsidize corporate water projects and will not help Flint or other disadvantaged communities address their serious drinking water problems. WIFIA has 11 criteria for prioritizing which projects get funding, not one of which addresses human health, water quality compliance or affordability. Instead, WIFIA prioritizes funding to large-scale projects, to privatized projects and to projects serving areas with oil and gas development.
This isn’t the full list of bad ideas in Trump’s budget proposal – just a selection of the worst ones for our food, water, and climate. But they make Trump’s priorities clear: he’s ready to put the greed of corporations ahead of the needs of people. Tell your members of Congress to stand up for people’s health and the environment in the budget battle.