Right now, the Trump administration is crafting a budget proposal that envisions steep cuts to a number of federal agencies — including, reportedly, a 24 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency that would eliminate one-fifth of its 15,000 jobs.
There aren’t yet any final decisions on exactly which environmental and energy programs will be targeted for elimination; the White House is still discussing with the relevant agencies. But one place to look for clues is this budget “blueprint” put out by the Heritage Foundation, a major conservative think tank. According to multiple reports, Donald Trump’s team has been using Heritage’s blueprint as a rough guide in its search for $54 billion in domestic spending cuts for fiscal year 2018.
The Heritage budget explains how to get cuts of that magnitude — spreading them out across every agency. And it goes particularly hard after energy and environmental programs. The EPA’s climate-change programs? Gone. Federal research into wind, solar, electric vehicles, nuclear, and other clean tech? Gone. Environmental justice programs? Gone. There are cuts to pollution enforcement and EPA programs that deal with surface water cleanup to diesel truck emissions. Plus cuts in aid to poor countries that help deal with ozone depletion and global warming. Taken together, the blueprint’s cuts would amount to a stark change in US environmental policy.
These cuts won’t all necessarily fly with Congress — a few Republicans are already balking at some of the numbers Trump’s team is tossing about. But it’s a useful read as an aspirational document, a look at the programs that some influential conservatives with Trump’s ear would like to see rooted out of the federal government (and why). Here are three areas of particular interest to the energy/environmental sphere:
1) The Heritage blueprint eliminates a bunch of US climate programs
The authors of the Heritage blueprint state upfront that they don’t believe climate change is a problem — and hence recommend eliminating virtually everything the EPA does on the issue. That means:
- Zero out funding for any work that the EPA does regulating greenhouse gases from vehicles, power plants, or other sources.
- Eliminate the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program and the Global Methane Initiative, both of which work to measure emissions from polluters and other sources.
- Eliminate various EPA programs to help states to adapt to climate change, such as the Climate Resilience Evaluation Awareness Tool, the Green Infrastructure program, and the Climate Ready Water Utilities Initiative. Climate resilience funds at various agencies are also targeted.
- Eliminate all climate research funding for the EPA’s Office of Research and Development, the agency’s scientific research arm.
A few of these programs can’t be eliminated via the budget alone. The EPA is required by law to measure and report US greenhouse gases and to regulate carbon dioxide from vehicles and other sources. So Congress couldn’t just zero out funding for those programs — it would have to rewrite environmental statutes, which is a much heavier lift and much less likely to happen.
But some of these cuts are quite doable. Trump could well ask to reduce funding for implementing the Clean Power Plan — an Obama-era policy to cut CO2 from power plants — since he is planning to roll that back anyway. Some of the EPA’s climate change adaptation programs may also be threatened.
Outside of the EPA, the Heritage blueprint also recommends eliminating various State Department programs dealing with climate change, including the agency’s contributions to the Climate Investment Funds and the Global Environment Facility, two international programs meant to help low-income countries adapt to climate change. Those cuts could well be on Trump’s list too. (We still don’t know if Trump plans to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, but even if he stays in, these cuts could make negotiations much stickier.)
Climate science itself would also be on the chopping block: The blueprint recommends eliminating the $10 million each year the US sends to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — an expert panel that produces the most far-reaching and authoritative syntheses on climate science around. It also recommends zeroing out the Department of Energy’s Biological and Environmental Research program, which funds some climate science as well as the EPA climate science cuts mentioned above.
2) The blueprint takes an ax to US clean energy programs
The US Department of Energy (DOE) spends about $5 billion per year on programs to research and develop low-emissions energy technologies — from advanced wind, solar, and biofuels to next-generation nuclear power to carbon capture for coal plants. The Heritage authors see many of these programs as “picking winners and losers” and recommend leaving all of this research to the private sector.
Some examples of big-ticket items targeted for cuts:
- Eliminate ARPA-E, an office within DOE that funds early research into long-shot energy technologies too risky for the private sector, like futuristic batteries or biofuels.
- Eliminate the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which funds research into wind, solar, hydrogen, biofuels, and more.
- Eliminate the DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy, which funds research into technologies to reduce emissions from coal, oil, and gas — including carbon capture technology.
- Reduce funding for DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy, zeroing out government research into advanced reactors and leaving only some funding for restarting the Yucca Mountain waste repository.
- Eliminate the DOE Office of Electricity Deliverability and Energy Reliability, which funds research into modernizing electric grids.
- Eliminate DOE’s Energy Innovation Hubs, which bring basic and applied research together to overcome barriers to new energy technologies like batteries.
It’s worth noting that incoming Energy Secretary Rick Perry seems to disagree in principle with eliminating a lot of these programs — during his confirmation hearing, he largely agreed with the view that government has an important role to play in researching and seeding new energy technologies that the private sector won’t invest in. (Among other things, DOE funding helped develop and refine fracking technology, which has led to the recent natural gas boom.) So it will be interesting to see if he pushes back against these cuts at all once he gets confirmed.
Also note that a few Senate Republicans, such as Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) have spoken out in favor of ARPA-E and federal spending on clean energy research. They’ll be worth watching closely.
3) The blueprint cuts or kills a wide array of other EPA environmental programs
Early reports suggest that the Trump White House is targeting a number of federal environmental programs — including EPA grants to states — for cuts. The Washington Post offered up this list: “eliminating project grants to clean up brownfields, or abandoned industrial sites; a national electronic manifest system for hazardous waste; environmental justice programs and the Energy Star energy efficiency program.”
Again, that list may not be final or complete — but it’s worth noting that many of these programs are also targeted for cuts in the Heritage blueprint. Here are some of the Heritage cuts on a range of other environmental issues:
- Cut the EPA’s enforcement budget by 30 percent. Cut the Department of Justice’s budget for environmental enforcement by 33 percent. These two agencies typically work together to go after companies who violate environmental laws.
- Eliminate the EPA’s Air, Climate, and Energy Research Program.
- Eliminate the EPA’s Sustainable and Healthy Communities Research Program.
- Cut funding for the EPA’s National Estuary Program, which focuses on coastal ecosystems.
- Cut funding for the EPA’s Pollution Prevention program, which sends grants to states to give businesses information on how to reduce their emissions. (Heritage says this is best left to the private sector.)
- Cut funding for the Federal Vehicle and Fuels Standards and Certification program. (This might have to be done in conjunction with Congress rolling back fuel-economy rules.)
- Cut $ funding for the EPA’s Waste Minimization and Recycling programs.
- Cut the EPA’s contributions to the Stratospheric Ozone Multilateral Fund — which helps low-income countries phase out CFCs that are depleting the ozone layer — by 50 percent.
- Allow the $20 billion Land and Water Conservation Fund to expire. This fund takes royalties from oil and gas drilling on federal land and uses it to oversee and maintain federal lands and waters.
- Eliminate the National Clean Diesel Campaign, which sends grants to states to control emissions from diesel vehicles.
- Eliminate the EPA’s environmental justice programs, which are meant to protect low-income and minority communities from environmental harms. In the past, this has funded grants for public health assistance as well as things like neighborhood litter cleanups or urban gardening.
Again, it’s not clear that Trump will actually pursue every single one of these cuts — and it’s far from certain that Congress would approve them. It’s worth noting that last year in the House, Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA), who chairs the committee overseeing the EPA’s $8 billion budget, only wanted to cut the agency’s funding by 6 percent and freeze staffing at current levels of 15,000. That’s much, much less stark than Trump’s rumored proposals. Yesterday, Calvert told E&E News that he’d have to wait for more details from the White House before weighing in.
In any case, this budget process is still very much unfolding. On Monday, the White House sent broad top-line numbers to each of the federal agencies, along with recommendations for programs to cut. The agencies will comment and offer their feedback. By March 16, the White House will publish its own formal "budget blueprint." By May, the Trump administration will finalize a detailed budget request and send it to Congress. Then the House and Senate will get to fiddle with spending levels. So a lot could change between now and then.