Research and Development
A 31.4% cut to the Environmental Protection Agency, an end to international climate funding, and massive reductions in climate research are major elements of the 2018 budget released yesterday by the Trump White House.
The budget calls for US$54 billion in cuts across the U.S. government, designed to free up funds for an increase in Pentagon spending, with the EPA taking the biggest single hit.
Asked about climate change in a news conference to announce the budget, Office of Management and Budget Director Michael Mulvaney responded: “We’re not spending money on that anymore. We consider that to be a waste of your money.”
The EPA is slated to lose 3,200 of its 15,000 employees.
Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp called the budget “reckless” and the EPA cut “unconscionable”, noting that the plan “would put the health and safety of all Americans at risk, and hobble our efforts to build a vibrant clean energy economy.” He added: “This is an all-out assault on the health of our planet and the health and safety of the American people. President Trump’s budget proposal is an overzealous attempt to undermine America’s most basic environmental protections, with no concern about the serious harm it will cause to our families and communities.”
“Trump’s budget proposal to eviscerate the EPA is a direct assault on our future,” agreed NRDC Legislative Director Scott Slesinger. “It would return us to smog-choked cities, oil-soaked rivers, and toxic drinking water, threatening our health from every quarter. No American wants that. This ridiculous proposal deserves to be, and will be, dead on arrival in Congress.”
The budget takes $2.6 billion out of the EPA budget, including $100 million for Clean Power Plan implementation and international climate programs and partnerships, and $50 million for EnergyStar, a massively effective, 25-year-old program that saves consumers an estimated $24 to $34 billion per year by helping them choose more energy-efficient appliances.
“The federal budget outline released by the Trump administration today takes a meat cleaver to energy efficiency programs, cutting both muscle and bone. If enacted, these cuts would raise Americans’ energy bills and kill jobs,” said Steve Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
“These programs produce a huge windfall for all Americans—saving us billions of dollars in energy bills, making businesses more competitive, reducing air pollution, and creating millions of U.S. jobs,” Nadel added. “Wasting energy and killing jobs are not the change Americans were seeking in the last election.”
Beyond the EPA cuts, InsideClimate News reports that the U.S. Department of Energy will lose its $291-million Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) see their pioneering climate research efforts largely abandoned, with NASA funds refocused on deep space exploration and supersonic commercial aviation research.
ICN’s summary also enumerates climate-related cuts to the Departments of State, Interior, and Agriculture, but notes that Thursday’s release “is only the first step in the process. Congress will weigh in and oppose the loss of popular programs and the plan’s failure to address the deficit. To pass cuts to discretionary programs like those at EPA would require some Democratic support to reach 60 votes in the Senate, which is unlikely.”
However, “the White House is likely to find significant support among Republicans, particularly for cutting the EPA.” But within hours of Mulvaney’s news conference, the Washington Post was reporting widespread opposition to the budget on the part of Congressional Republicans.
“While we have a responsibility to reduce our federal deficit, I am disappointed that many of the reductions and eliminations proposed in the president’s skinny budget are draconian, careless, and counterproductive,” said House Appropriations Committee Chair Hal Rogers (R-KY). “We will certainly review this budget proposal, but Congress ultimately has the power of the purse.”
“I’ve never seen a president’s budget proposal not revised substantially,” added Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA). “As a member of the Budget Committee, I’ll carefully scrutinize and assess priorities as the president has with his proposal.”
New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush tweeted a devastating comment from a senior Republican leadership aide on Capitol Hill: “It’s a joke…we’ve learned not to listen to anything he says or does. We’re on our own.”
Earlier in the week, Reuters reported that Trump planned to travel to a suburb of Detroit to announce that his administration would reopen a vehicle economy standard released in the Obama administration’s last week.
At the time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency still had 15 months to lock in a new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard to take effect in 2025. Instead, it issued the regulatory “determination” with just a week left in the Obama administration’s term. It would have required that automobiles and light trucks sold in the United States achieve an average fleet fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon or better by 2025.
Automakers have complained that the standard conflicts with current consumer preferences for larger trucks and SUVs, trends that have been encouraged by low gasoline prices. General Motors said CEO Mary Barra would attend the president’s announcement to welcome the expected news that the standard would be reopened. When the Obama White House first released the latest extension of a long-standing mandate however, Reuters reported it might be more difficult to undo than other last-minute Obama regulatory actions.
On other files, the new administration has stepped much more slowly. Trump “has moved to fill just one of 46 key science and technology positions that help the government counter risks ranging from chemical and biological attacks to rising seas,” the Washington Post reported. Some of the rest may never be filled, the paper speculated, citing the president’s statement to Fox News that “a lot of those jobs, I don’t want to appoint, because they’re unnecessary to have.”
The administration’s open hostility to climate science, in particular, prompted one of the country’s most highly respected repositories of climate research to weigh the extraordinary step of accelerating plans to archive that knowledge before “the Trump administration could interfere with their work,” the Los Angeles Times noted.Campus officials at the University of California, San Diego, which hosts the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, will meet next week to discuss how to safeguard decades of data.
The White House also began contacting publicly-traded fossil companies to get their views on the Paris agreement, in what Reuters interpreted as a sign that Trump may step back from his campaign promise to pull the country out of the landmark climate deal. Many of the companies “said they would prefer the United States remain in the pact, but would also support reducing U.S. commitments in the deal,” the news agency reported, citing two internal sources.
And the California Public Utilities Commission isn’t wasting any time in its efforts to snap up the expertise the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stands to lose as a result of Trump’s proposed 31.4% budget cut and associated staff purge. “Come work for California. Fight climate change,” read the flyer that Sacramento-based CPUC staffer Michael Picker was handing out yesterday outside EPA offices.
“I don’t agree with the president and certainly am not going to shy from an opportunity to give people good work to pursue their goals,” Picker said. “He’s hoping to find a handful of DC-based federal workers willing to move west to work for the utility energy regulator and add some fresh insight and much-needed talent to the CPUC,” added correspondent Rebecca Leber.
The White House got a bit more specific about its plans to gut the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, releasing a budget blueprint that targeted one-fifth of EPA staff and shuttered key programs.
Air and water programs and state grants would be cut 30%, research and development 42%, and “38 separate programs would be eliminated entirely,” the Washington Post reports. “Grants to clean up brownfields, or abandoned industrial sites, would be gone. Also zeroed out: the radon program, climate change initiatives, and funding for Alaskan native villages.”
The cuts “would have to be codified through the congressional appropriations process and would probably face resistance from some lawmakers,” write reporters Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis. “Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), a former chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on interior, environment, and related agencies, said he did not think Congress would approve such a steep drop in funding.”
Former EPA officials were aghast, however, reminding the regime that science transcends politics. “Evidence-based decision-making on the environment should not be abandoned,” wrote Thomas A. Burke and Bernard Goldstein, who led the agency’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) under presidents Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan, respectively, and University of Southern California Prof. Jonathan Samet, former chair of the agency’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, in a commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine.
“Reasoned action and acknowledgment of scientific truth are fundamental to democracy, public health, and economic growth,” they added. “Scientific evidence does not change when the administration changes.”
Samet added that the 42% ORD cut “would be devastating to the nation’s capacity to do environmental health and ecosystem research.”
Greenpeace USA called the EPA cuts “environmental racism in action”, Grist reports. “While this ‘zero out’ strategy would impact nearly every community in the United States,” said spokesperson Travis Nichols, “a close examination shows the burden of these cuts will fall hardest on the health of low-income Americans and people of colour.”
“It’s almost like I might as well just kill myself because I will have no protection,” said Cheryl Johnson, executive director of People for Community Recovery in inner city Chicago. “I won’t have the resources to be able to go and educate my community, or educate even just my family about the environmental hazards in our community.”
Trump is also proposing dramatic foreign aid cuts at a moment when four countries across Africa and the Middle East are approaching famine and 20 million people are approaching starvation, the Post reported. “The United Nations has requested $4.4 billion by March to ‘avert a catastrophe,’” the paper notes. “It has so far received only a tiny fraction of that request.” Much of the crisis is due to drought brought on by climate change.
An analysis by ThinkProgress concluded that Trump’s address to Congress Tuesday evening was “riddled with falsehoods about the energy industry”, including claims that the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines would deliver “tens of thousands of jobs”. The LA Times said Trump was getting ahead of himself with that claim, while ignoring the real and significant job creation coming from clean energy. Washington Post fact checker Michelle Ye Hee Lee awarded Trump the paper’s coveted Four Pinocchios, reserved for only the most misleading examples of political speech, for the claim the Obama-era Waters of the United States regulation had cost the country “hundreds of thousands” of jobs when it had not yet been implemented.
Climate Progress Founding Editor Joe Romm charged that first daughter Ivanka Trump is greenwashing her father’s administration, not greening it. Members of Congress who had gathered to discuss social cost of carbon accounting ended up debating whether climate change is a thing. The Senate confirmed ex-Texas governor Rick Perry as Energy Secretary, just a few years after he famously forgot the name of the U.S. Department of Energy as he tried to identify it as a federal agency to be eliminated. The White House brought onboard a Koch-affiliated senior energy advisor who believes U.S. environment groups are driven by “Marxist ideology”, and that global warming is a “liberal concept”. And EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt cited brownfield programming and Superfund cleanups as two funding areas he wanted to protect.
Renewable energy is already delivering on the Trump administration’s promise to create jobs, deliver energy innovation, and make America “great”, a group of eight Republican and 12 Democratic governors affirm in a letter delivered to the White House last week.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo co-signed the letter, which stated that members of the Governors’ Wind and Solar Energy Coalition “have seen the benefits of renewable energy first-hand, and agree that expanding renewable energy production is one of the best ways to meet the country’s growing demand for energy.”
The governors asked ex-reality TV star and frequent Mar-a-Lago visitor Donald Trump to “‘strengthen America’s energy future’ by extending government support for offshore wind, R&D, grid modernization, and improved permitting for utility-scale renewables,” Greentech Media reports. “They pointed to the hundreds of thousands of jobs created in their states across the country—from Arkansas to Kansas to California—as evidence that renewables are providing a direct economic boost.”
The letter notes that “U.S. wind facilities pay rural landowners US$222 million a year, with more than $156 million going to landowners in areas with below-average incomes. In addition, $100 billion has been invested by companies in low-income counties, where some 70% of the nation’s wind farms are located.”
The governors add: “Today’s wind and solar resources offer consumers nearly unlimited electric energy with no fuel costs, no national security impacts, and a number of environmental benefits. The boons of renewable energy can be virtually endless with your Administration’s and Congress’ support of the key initiatives detailed here.”
“The message from state officials to Trump is clear: If you want to live up to your promise of keeping industry in America, you can’t ignore domestic renewables,” Greentech notes. “The coalition’s requests are simple: The government should help modernize the grid, support basic research, and make it easier to build offshore wind projects.”