The United States, which led the world into the era of institutional environmental protection nearly half a century ago, will discover what it’s like to live without much of it, if President Donald Trump’s budget proposals revealed on Monday have the expected result of slashing the Environmental Protection Agency’s enforcement capabilities.
Merely disabling the EPA may not be the limit of new Administrator Scott Pruitt‘s remit at the agency, however. In a study of White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon’s world-view, the Washington Post suggests Pruitt’s appointment, like that of other U.S. cabinet secretaries to agencies they have criticized, may have the more ambitious intent of actually dissolving them, a goal that was dismissed as hyperbole when Trump himself endorsed it for the EPA during the 2016 election campaign.
- Concise headlines. Original content. Timely news and views from a select group of opinion leaders. Special extras.
- Everything you need, nothing you don’t.
- The Weekender: The climate news you need.
Savage cuts to agencies critical to America’s public services are not incidental to Trump’s tax goals, the Post argues in its close-up look at former Breitbart News CEO and documentary producer, Steven Bannon, now widely regarded as the closest thing to a navigator in Trump’s turbulent political wheelhouse.
Speaking last week at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), “Bannon listed the administration’s central purposes,” the Post reports. Right after the expected “national security and sovereignty” and “economic nationalism,” the paper notes, “came the third: the ‘deconstruction of the administrative state.’
“Bannon explained that officials who seem to hate what their agencies do—one thinks especially of Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, who has sued it repeatedly to the benefit of oil and gas companies—were ‘selected for a reason, and that is deconstruction.’”
The Pruitts of Trump’s administration, the Post implies, are in their jobs for the express purpose of eliminating as much as possible of the agencies they now command. Bannon, the paper writes, invoked “the trendy lefty term ‘deconstruct’ as a synonym for ‘destroy.’ In practice, this is a war on a century’s worth of work to keep our air and water clean; our food, drugs, and workplaces safe; the rights of employees protected; and the marketplace fair and unrigged.”
That indeed seems to loom, according to Bloomberg’s assessment of the likely effect of Trump’s cuts on the EPA’s operations. “President Donald Trump’s plan would almost certainly mean deep cuts to programs that protect the air and water and invoke fierce protests from environmentalists,” the outlet anticipates.
“Roughly two out of every five dollars dedicated to the EPA ends up steered to state, tribal, and local governments. Even Trump’s own advisers and the new EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, say the agency’s state environmental grants are off limits. That means the administration would need to reduce the EPA’s already tight budget for enforcing environmental laws. and its legally mandated portfolio of other work.”
“They’re talking about massive cuts in an agency whose budget has basically been flat,” said David Goldston, director of government affairs for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “They’re not hiding their overall goal in terms of a long-run effort to basically hobble the ability of the government to protect the public.”
According to one source cited by Politico, the White House plan “would see the agency’s budget slashed by a quarter and one in five of its workers eventually eliminated,” an outcome the source described as “far more severe than anyone imagined.”
If the proposals are implemented, Politico’s sources said, “EPA’s budget would drop from its current level of $8.1 billion to $6.1 billion, a level not seen since 1991. One source said the agency’s 15,000-strong workforce would drop to 12,000, a level not seen since the mid-1980s.”
According to several reports, the slashing would begin with three programs: the U.S. Clean Power Plan, its Clean Water Rule, and a federal coal leasing moratorium introduced by President Barack Obama.
EcoWatch enumerates some of the implications of stepping away from the measures. The Clean Power Plan, it notes, had been forecast to “deliver annual benefits of up to $93 billion by 2030” to the U.S. economy. “The Clean Water Rule provides protections for the drinking water sources for more than one in three Americans.” Obama’s coal leasing moratorium meanwhile, scrapped what EcoWatch referred to as a “sweetheart deal which has been short-changing taxpayers while benefiting coal executives for decades.” In the coal-bearing Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming alone, the rule has cost the U.S. public US$28.9 billion over three decades.
Pruitt confirmed impressions that he is antagonistic to climate protection with the appointment of a longtime top aide to climate denier and Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe as his chief of staff, according to E&E News (subscription).
However Pruitt’s tenure remains under scrutiny over his close relationship with fossil energy companies—and false statements he made under oath during his confirmation hearing before the Senate.
“Revelations that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt used a private email account while serving as Oklahoma attorney general—in direct contradiction to his Senate testimony,” Politico reports, are “only the beginning of the mess of conflicts and falsehoods” surrounding the Trump appointee that Congressional Democrats threaten to focus on.
In other Trump news, Oilprice.com reports that if the administration continues to harden its relationship with Mexico, it will endanger U.S. natural gas exports already hit by slumping sales to Canada. “For the U.S., Mexico was the biggest single export market for its natural gas in the first nine months of 2016,” the energy news outlet observes. If Trump goes ahead with his proposed border wall, despite protests, Mexico could hypothetically refuse to continue buying U.S. gas.”
While that might lead to distress in Mexico, “and further undermine the stability of the government, which is having a hard enough time already with unpopular reforms,” it will also lead to turmoil for U.S. gas producers, Oilprice argues. “If the U.S. stops exporting gas to Mexico, the glut will return, prices will slump, and gas producers will once again have to fight for every breath they take.”
Over at Transport, Reuters reports, newly-confirmed Secretary Elaine Chao said she was reviewing a guidance document on self-driving vehicles the Obama administration had issued to provide developers a pathway to approval for their street use. Chao said she was “very concerned” about the potential impact of self-driving vehicles on employment for America’s “3.5 million U.S. truck drivers and millions of others employed in driving-related occupations.”
The Administration’s full budget for the U.S. government financial year beginning October 1 will be presented to Congress in March. Trump’s teaser on his intentions disclosed that he plans to slash US$54 billion from federal spending on services and programs, other than the major entitlements of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, in order to fund an equivalent build-up of American war spending. Trump also announced an additional one-time injection of $30 billion into the Pentagon’s budget, already larger than that of the eight next-biggest military spenders combined.
The build-up of what Trump termed America’s “depleted military” is expected to require “a roughly 10% across-the-board cut in all other federal spending programs,” the Post calculates. But the budget axe was widely forecast to fall unevenly, with Administration sources suggesting the EPA could anticipate a nearly 25% cut in its $US8.3 billion budget.
“A cut this steep almost certainly means cuts to agencies that protect consumers from Wall Street excess and protect clean air and water,” charged Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY).
The Post pronounced Trump’s budget promises “really a scam” before they were even released. The U.S. president “will pretend that he can achieve huge savings without any pain. He’ll try to focus attention on huge cuts to relatively small programs—cuts that’ll be devastating for the people those programs serve but won’t make a dent in the overall budget picture. He’ll promise that he can provide public services, fund the benefits on which American families rely and make the critical investments that grow our economy, all with less tax revenue, even as he increases spending on things like a border wall. Just like all scams, this one will sound good on the surface, but it will leave us all worse off in the end.”
While the Administration promised more detail on March 13 and a complete budget proposal by the end of the month, The Hill reported in January that Trump plans “more than $10.5 trillion in cuts over the next decade, a deliberately eye-popping number,” while continuing to protect entitlements and “increase military spending significantly.”
That, the outlet calculated, implies that the Administration means “to reduce all other public services and programs—everything from veterans benefits to health care research to highways to special education—by more than 75% to meet [the president’s] spending cuts goal.”
By another calculation, the non-partisan Tax Policy Center estimated that the tax plan Trump campaigned on “would reduce federal tax revenue—and thereby increase federal debt—by at least US$6.1 trillion. Roughly half of that money would go directly into the bank accounts of the richest 1%.”