In an echo of past years, the Trump administration is proposing steep cuts in funding for the federal Environmental Protection Agency that would slash the agency’s spending by as much as 26%. The cuts are outlined in the budget proposal that President Donald Trump sent to Congress on Monday.
The cuts, which would eliminate up to 50 programs overseen by the agency, are unlikely to survive intact once the budget is reviewed by Congress, which has rejected such dramatic reductions in spending for environmental programs the past few years.
Nevertheless, the scope of the spending cuts spurred criticism from environmentalists and state lawmakers in New Jersey, particularly over a proposed 10% cut ($113 million) in the Superfund program to clean up hazardous waste sites.
New Jersey has 115 such sites, at least five of which have run out of funding, according to Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. A recent study suggested EPA has the largest backlog of hazardous waste cleanups in 15 years.
“With the $113 million cut, New Jersey stands to lose the most,’’ said Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex). “President Trump has made it abundantly clear, yet again, in his proposal to slash more than $2.4 billion in funding across federal agencies and programs that pollution doesn’t matter, land conservation doesn’t matter, energy innovation doesn’t matter, safety nets don’t matter, and the best interests of people don’t matter.’’
Other agencies also were cut in Trump’s proposed budget, but not as steeply. Spending at the U.S. Department of Energy would be reduced by 8% and by 16% at the Department of the Interior.
‘Unconscionable,’ says former EPA head
“It is unconscionable to take such drastic cuts to EPA, the Energy Department and other agencies that keep us safe,’’ said Gina McCarthy, president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council and a former EPA administrator.
Among the 50 programs the proposed budget would eliminate are ones that fight pollution, radon and lead, as well as give clean water grants to small and disadvantaged communities.
“The clean water cuts are one-quarter to one-third of their enforcement budget,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “It’s combined sewer overflows, it’s enforcement, it’s a polluter’s budget,’’ he said.
In his budget message, Trump noted his administration’s focus on regulation relief.
“After only three years, my administration has cut a historic number of regulations, and we have put the brakes on an endless assault of new, costly actions by federal agencies,’’ according to the message.
In the Department of Energy, the proposed budget would eliminate projects that research advanced energy options by nearly one-half. In the Department of the Interior, the budget would reduce the recently authorized Land and Water Conservation Fund by almost 97%.
In other areas, the budget would eliminate funding for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, where spent nuclear fuel would be stored. The plan had been widely opposed in Nevada.