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We knew Trump wanted to gut the EPA. A leaked plan shows how it would be done.

The administration wants to cut a quarter of the agency’s staff.

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt before signing the Energy Independence Executive Order at the EPA (on March 28, 2017.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Leaked documents reveal just how President Donald Trump plans to decimate the Environmental Protection Agency and cut 31 percent of its funding.

The more detailed vision for the EPA appears in an internal memo by its acting financial officer that was shared with Vox. It includes the elimination of more funding for decade-long programs, drastically scaling back different departments within the agency, and more staff layoffs than initially proposed.

Some 50 programs are on the chopping block, including state grants for fighting environmental hazards such as lead and radon and at least 10 specific geographic programs, like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and Chesapeake Bay program. Discretionary funds worth $21 million for “state-defined high priority activities” have been stripped, according to the memo, dated March 21.

What’s more, staffing cuts to the agency are now estimated at 25 percent, up from the 20 percent in cuts proposed in the March 16 “skinny” budget.

David Goldston, director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Fund (NRDF), says that while the memo “doesn’t change the overall picture from what we already knew,” the new details demonstrate the Trump administration’s intention “to basically eviscerate the agency. It … is part of an ideological crusade against the EPA and its mission.”

The administration wants to give states more responsibility, but not enough funding to do their job

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has repeatedly said he wants states to take more ownership of enforcing environmental regulations. And the budget documents — old and new alike — call for overhauling the EPA by returning “the responsibility for funding local environmental efforts and programs to state and local entities.”

But the current budget proposal would cripple state enforcement and regulation efforts, particularly for states already facing severely strapped budgets.

On average, the EPA funds 27 percent of a state’s environmental agency budget, often in the form of categorical grants, according to the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS), a nonprofit association of state environmental agency leaders. And in the Trump budget, categorical grants get a 44 percent cut.

“What’s important to realize about these grants, is they are essentially ‘fee for service,’ or what we as a state receive for implementing federal programs on behalf of the EPA,” said Patrick McDonnell, acting secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. “We have the responsibility for implementing the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act … but cutting that funding in half impacts our ability to get permits out as well as our inspection coverage. It doesn’t get rid of our responsibility to implement these programs, however.”

Alex Dunn, the executive director of ECOS, said their analysis found that the only source of funding that had increased in the past three years for state environmental agencies was funding generated by fees and other sources, which on average makes up 62 percent of a state environmental agency’s budget.

“Fees are the largest and fastest growing source of funding,” said Dunn. “But it’s unlikely that states could change their fee structure to bring in additional revenue [to offset the cuts]. A more likely response will be a set of very difficult decisions to reduce staff or services. The other response I’ve heard from many states is to expect that delivery of services will just slow down.”

What’s next: wait to see what Congress decides

The latest budget documents are being circulated internally within the EPA, and department heads are now in the process of providing detail on activities that will either be supported, reduced, or eliminated in the current proposal.

Leadership will then review and readjust the budget request. Vox reached out to the EPA for a rough timeline moving forward. Spokesperson John Konkus said only, “EPA is working towards implementing the President’s budget based on the framework provided by his blueprint.”

The Trump administration’s official budget is scheduled to go before Congress in mid-May, and that’s when the real work will begin, as Congress is unlikely to approve all of Trump’s suggested funding cuts.

“We won’t know for sure until we see what comes out in mid-May, but we have every reason to believe that the final proposal from the administration will look very much like this,” said Goldston. “They’ve already said their final number is the 31 percent cut. There’s no good outcome for that.”

Further reading:

  • One area in the EPA that is relatively safe? Funding for drinking water and waste water infrastructure — it’s one of the only areas in the EPA budget that is slated for a modest funding increase. But the proposed $4 million increase in funding doesn’t tell the full story of how the Trump administration is actively undermining the EPA’s ability to keep drinking water safe.
  • Here’s a great explainer from Vox’s Brad Plumer that delves into what Trump’s Energy Independence executive order means for climate change policy in the US and at the EPA.
  • Read Vox’s Julia Belluz and Brian Resnick on proposed funding cuts at the National Institutes of Health and other major science research programs.

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