President Trump is proposing to slash the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by over 30 percent – more than any other federal agency. Many programs would be eliminated entirely, like climate change research, while others would see significant cuts, like the Superfund program.
Environmentalists say it’s an attempt to cripple the agency, but EPA administrator Scott Pruitt defended the cuts as respectful to the American taxpayer.
“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,” he said in a statement.
The proposed cuts, which must be approved by Congress, shift more of the burden for environmental protection to the states. But the EPA budget also cuts by 45 percent how much grant money is available to states to carry out their increased responsibilities.
It’s unclear how much California could make up for the gap in federal funding, given even larger proposed cuts to entitlement programs like Medicaid.
“Although (the budget) might appear to be cost savings at federal level, it’s going to potentially be a severe burden to state and local governments to bear the costs,” said Sarah Sikich, the vice president of the local non-profit Heal the Bay. She said EPA funding for local environmental protection is critical and often overlooked in California, where elected officials brag about having environmental laws that are often stricter than federal standards.
Twelve percent of CalEPA’s budget comes from the federal government. The State Water Resources Control Board gets the largest portion, $300 million. Those funds are used to clean up polluted streams, make sure toxic substances aren't leaking into groundwater and ensure drinking water is safe.
One way for state and local environmental agencies to fill a possible budget hole would be to increase the fees paid by industry for various environmental permits, which Joe Lyou, head of the Coalition for Clean Air, said was not ideal. Lyou is also a board member of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which also receives federal funds.
“I tend to think we don’t want to take money from local businesses to help pay for air monitoring,” he said, "If AQMD can’t balance its budget, it goes under as an agency.”
In addition to helping fund agencies, EPA also has many on-the-ground projects in Southern California. The Superfund program, which helps clean up 98 of most polluted industrial sites in the state, is slated to be cut by 30 percent.
Southern California Superfund sites include the Montrose Chemical Plant in Torrance, which manufactured DDT; the Del Amo synthetic rubber plant in Carson; and contaminated groundwater in the San Fernando Valley. In San Bernardino County, another Superfund site is the area around the Norton Air Force Base.
The 30 percent cut, “does not even begin to capture the full consequences of the harm to that program,” said John Walke, director of the climate and clean air program for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Walke said the cuts could hinder EPA’s role as coordinator of Superfund cleanups, causing delays and imposing additional costs on the companies charged with the paying for the work.
The day before announcing a 30 percent cut to Superfund, Administrator Pruitt called the program a cornerstone of the agency’s mission and said he was reforming the program to speed cleanups.
The Trump budget would also eliminate a number of environmental programs that fund local restoration work in Southern California.
The National Estuary Program provides $600,000 a year for on-going restoration of Santa Monica Bay, including kelp forest and dune preservation and stormwater protection to clean up runoff before it reaches the bay. That program would be eliminated under the Trump budget.
Another is EPA’s beaches program, which is also slated to be cut entirely. That program provides funding to local county public health agencies for water quality monitoring to determine when beaches are safe for swimming. Local non-profit Heal the Bay uses that data for its beach score cards.
Local universities also rely on EPA funding for research. The University of Southern California has received over $4 million as part of the agency’s Science to Achieve Results or STAR grant to study the connection between childhood obesity and air pollution. South Coast Air Quality Management District is currently using STAR money to develop low-cost community air monitors. And UC Riverside is studying how to turn treated wastewater into irrigation for crops.
Internal EPA research is also slated to be slashed. Lyou, with the Coalition for Clean Air, is especially worried about the proposed 70 cut to air pollution research because of Southern California’s has never met federal air standards for smog.
“Everything we do on air quality and climate is based on sound science,” he said. “And if you don’t have that first building block, you’re not going to be able to create policy to deal with the problem.”
The EPA did not respond to multiple requests for comment and did not hold a press call on its portion of the budget proposal like other federal agencies did.