Administration makes second bid to cut ‘unnecessary’ programs
Federal attention dips as heat, wildfires, sea levels rise
Months after three major hurricanes devastated Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, the White House once again proposed slashing spending on government programs to combat climate change and protect communities from the flooding it could unleash.
The White House also suggests cutting the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by at least a quarter, reducing the EPA to levels not seen since 1991, according to a budget blueprint proposed Monday. The budget request dovetails with an infrastructure plan also unveiled Monday that would pare federal environmental reviews and make it easier to put pipelines on federal land.
"It’s just completely divorced from the reality of the last 12 months," said Collin O’Mara, head of the National Wildlife Federation, adding that both proposals would force the U.S. to pay for environmental damage after it occurs instead of mitigating impacts in advance. "We’re seeing storms in very liberal and very conservative areas. They’re not discriminating at all, and yet people are picking up the pieces of their lives because we’re not making smart policy and smart investments right now."
The budget plan -- which faces a highly uncertain future in Congress -- would end several programs studying global warming, cut aid to countries on the front lines of climate change and halve spending on government flood mapping. It mirrors President Donald Trump’s previous budget-cutting proposals, many of which were rebuffed by Congress.
"The president’s proposal represents a commitment to getting the government back to its basic functions," said Tom Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, a free-market advocacy group.
The administration would strike funding for climate and environmental programs across the federal government, wherever it believes the initiatives exceed authority, duplicate spending or are out-of-line with Trump’s goals, according to the budget documents released Monday.
Among the programs that would be affected:
- The Global Climate Change Initiative, a joint State-U.S. AID program that helps other countries address more intense heat waves, rising seas and ferocious storms would be ended. The Obama administration gave the program $1.5 billion in 2016 and Congress delivered $160 million to it in fiscal 2017.
- The National Aeronautics and Space Administration venture that processes daily satellite snapshots of Earth that was conceived and championed for two decades by former Vice President Al Gore would be zeroed out.
- About $273 million in National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration programs to study the effects of climate change and sea-level rise around the country would face elimination, in order "to better target remaining resources to core missions and services."
- The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s flood-hazard mapping program would be cut by nearly half. While just 65 percent of the country’s more than 1 million miles of streams have up-to-date flood maps, state and local governments should pick up more of the cost of developing them, the administration argues. A year ago, Trump called for eliminating the program entirely.
- At the Environmental Protection Agency, as many as $598.5 million worth of programs and activities would be eliminated, with an eye on efforts the EPA said "create unnecessary redundancies or those that have served their purpose and accomplished their mission," including the Energy Star program that labels and certifies the efficiency of appliances and other consumer products. The White House proposes to revamp that program so it is administered by the EPA with user fees from manufacturers that want to be included, instead of taxpayers footing the bill.
- The EPA’s spending would be slashed to $6.15 billion, down from $8.2 billion in fiscal 2017. The agency’s overall spending has hovered at about $8 billion for years; the last time it was close to $6 billion was in fiscal year 1991, under former President George H.W. Bush.
- An Energy Department loan program office that helped Tesla Inc. get its Model S off the ground and propelled work on the first new nuclear power plants in decades is proposed to be scrapped for the second year in a row. The program was tainted after giving a bad loan to solar panel maker Solyndra LLC, though overall it has made money for the government and still has more than $40 billion left to dole out.
- The Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, which aims to fund breakthrough energy technologies -- from flying wind turbines to fuel cells -- would also be eliminated. That venture, known as ARPA-E, is currently funded at $305 million.
- Other programs earmarked for elimination include an Interior Department program that funds clean up of abandoned mines and an Energy initiative that helps low-income households make energy efficiency improvements to their homes.
- The budget request also includes a $2 billion reduction in Energy Department research funding for technologies that include renewable and nuclear power as well as energy efficiency.
— With assistance by Steven T. Dennis, and Ari Natter