President Trump budget slashes funding for Great Lakes

Posted at 1:15 PM, May 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-23 14:17:16-04

The Trump Administration budget released Tuesday slashes funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by nearly one-third, eliminating more than 3,800 jobs while imposing dramatic cuts to clean air and water programs.

The White House's proposed spending plan for the EPA amounts to $5.7 billion, a 31 percent cut from the current budget year. Adjusted for inflation, that would represent the nation's lowest funding for environmental protection since the mid-1970s.

The agency's workforce would drop from 15,416 full-time employees to 11,611.

The proposed cuts are in line with views expressed by President Donald Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who portray the environmental agency as a job-killing federal bureaucracy. Both have called for increased fossil fuel production while expressing doubt about the scientific consensus that man-made carbon emissions are the primary driver of global warming.

"The president's budget respects the American taxpayer," Pruitt said. "This budget supports EPA's highest priorities with federal funding for priority work in infrastructure, air and water quality, and ensuring the safety of chemicals in the marketplace."

Since taking office, Pruitt has moved to roll back or delay numerous Obama-era programs to cut pollution from mining operations, oil and gas wells and coal-fired power plants. Pruitt has said he will instead focus on cleaning up decades-old contamination, announcing Monday the creation of a new task force to "streamline and improve" the Superfund program.

Despite expressing that cleaning up toxic pollution would be his top priority, the administration's proposed budget cuts funding for Superfund by $330 million, to about $762 million. Current spending for Superfund is already down to about half what it was in the 1990s.

"I am confident that, with a renewed sense of urgency, leadership and fresh ideas, the Superfund program can reach its full potential of returning formerly contaminated sites to communities for their beneficial use," Pruitt said.

Also hard hit would be the EPA's science and technology programs, with a total reduction of 38 percent. Dozens of programs would be eliminated entirely, including $427 million in regional programs that help decrease pollution in the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, Puget Sound and other large water bodies. Though the administration has said state agencies should take more of the lead in enforcing environmental laws, the budget also reduces grants that help states pay for those programs by more than half.

Environmentalists said the administration's spending plan, if adopted by Congress, will lead directly to more pollution-related illnesses and deaths.

"This proposal would guarantee more children will suffer life-threatening asthma attacks and be forced to drink water polluted with pesticides and other toxic chemicals," said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group. "It is crystal clear that for President Trump, public health protection is not a priority, but a target."

Trump's budget is likely to face an uphill fight on Capitol Hill, where even lawmakers in his own party have already shown a wiliness to ignore the president's fiscal priorities. Many of the regional programs the administration has targeted for the chopping block have bipartisan support.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which has received more than $2 billion in federal funding since it was established in 2010, has nearly unanimous backing from members of both parties across region's eight states, from New York to Minnesota. They fiercely resisted cuts during the Obama administration and last month warded off Trump's proposal for a $50 million reduction to help pay for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.

"The health and vitality of the Great Lakes are instrumental to having sustained economic growth in Michigan and across the entire Great Lakes region," said Rep. Bill Huizenga, a Michigan Republican who co-chairs the House's Great Lakes Task Force. "I remain committed to working with both Republicans and Democrats to prioritize, strengthen, and defend the Great Lakes."