Trump Administration: Environmental (Budget) Impact Assessment

Earlier this month, the Trump Administration released its Fiscal Year 2021 Budget requests. As it has in previous years, the administration has proposed steep cuts in funding for the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Other agencies, such as the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would also see their budgets trimmed. Although the current Congress is unlikely to agree to such broad-sweeping cuts, the White House’s proposed budget requests provide a strong indicator of the Trump Administration’s priorities. 

The Cuts:

Overall, the administration’s budget proposes a 26 percent reduction in funding to the EPA, down to $6.7 billion from the $9.1 billion allocated in the 2020 fiscal year. Around 50 EPA programs would be eliminated under the budget. Among those are the EPA’s Energy Star program and voluntary climate programs. The Superfund program’s budget would also shrink by about 10 percent, likely compounding the issues associated with the Trump Administration’s build-up of the backlog of unfunded Superfund clean-up projects.

Two of the hardest hit portions of the EPA’s budget would be its categorical grant program and its research and development program. The categorical grant program would see spending dropped by 44 percent from just over $1 billion to just over $600 million. The program provides money to states to implement their own air, water, pesticide, waste, and toxic substances programs. Cuts to these grants, coupled with other program and funding cuts, would have a dramatic impact on enforcement of environmental laws and regulations at the state level. Similarly, the agency’s research and development budget would see a 44 percent reduction.

The DOI would lose about eight percent of its budget, with over half a billion cut from the National Park Service and a reduction in spending for the Endangered Species Act listing program. The Department of Energy’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy funds would see a 74 percent reduction, and the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy, which researches energy technology, would be eliminated.

The Increases:

The proposed budget is not, however, all based on cuts. The Trump Administration proposed an increase of $3 million for the Bureau of Land Management’s coal management program, signaling its support for the coal industry. The budget also includes funding of $796.1 billion in energy development programs for oil, gas, coal, and renewable energy. Approximately $1 trillion – yes, one trillion – is designated for funding infrastructure and projects involving, for example, pipelines, which would be subject to a sped-up permitting process, as well as investments in the nation’s decaying water infrastructure. (See ELM’s post on changes to environmental regulations, such as the National Environmental Policy Act). Further, $45 million is slated for the agency’s Lead Exposure Reduction Initiative, a $6 million increase to its ongoing PFAS Action Plan, and an additional $22.4 million to address and reduce Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs). 

The Takeaways:

As it relates to environmental issues, the Trump Administration’s 2021 budget request should not surprise those paying attention to the administration the last few years. The budget emphasizes de-regulation, cutting budgets of agencies with oversight and enforcement responsibilities, de-funding programs, and encouraging investment in coal, oil, and gas. 

Businesses and investors, especially those in energy, chemical, manufacturing, and other industries that operate in an otherwise heavily regulated space are likely to be pleased that the administration’s past words and actions are echoed in its 2021 budget priorities. However, insurers of these same entities may not feel the same way to the extent that relaxed regulatory and compliance oversight could lead to, for example, safety and pollution problems. State governments depending on federal money and environmental groups, meanwhile, can take solace that the Trump Administration’s budget request is only a request.