The federal budget that the president proposes annually and Congress votes on is more than a collection of numbers. It tells us who the president is, what he stands for, and what he cares about.
With President Trump’s first proposed budget since his election now official, we do indeed have reason to be alarmed. It’s clear that Trump is directing a full-scale effort to dismantle our nation’s core environmental protections.
Helping to lead that charge is none other than Scott Pruitt, head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He has claimed that the deep EPA budget cuts they’re planning – at 31 percent, the worst of any department or agency of government – are actually a good thing.
By cutting funding to the states, which help the EPA carry out its environmental mission, it will somehow improve environmental protection, Pruitt argues.
What it means in reality is that states will be left holding the environmental bag for some programs they must still carry out, that some protections will likely just go away or diminish – and that families and communities in 50 states are put at great risk.
For example, about 25 percent of state and local air quality monitoring funds come from EPA grants. That monitoring allows public health officials to warn families and communities about “Code Red” days – those badly polluted days when the air is too dangerous for children with asthma and seniors with heart conditions to spend time outdoors.
The Trump administration is proposing to cut that that funding by one-third, leaving states and local governments legally required to make up the shortfall. Other critical federal public health and environmental programs will just be axed.
With the president’s budget now out, we’re looking at these five key tests as we assess the damage:
1. Will cleanup of toxic waste sites be slowed?
There are more than 1,300 toxic Superfund waste sites and 450,000 brownfield hazardous sites across America, causing untold damage to local communities, such as toxins in their drinking water, cancer hotspots and stalled economic development.
Preliminary indications were that Trump and Pruitt plan to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from this program, dramatically slowing cleanup at these sites, many of which have been posing health hazards for decades.
2. Will polluters still be held accountable?
Pruitt’s long, cozy relationship with companies that have supported his political career – and his actual record as Attorney General of Oklahoma – suggest he’ll go easy on polluters. Serious cuts to the office that enforces clean air and water laws, for which the federal government is responsible, will suggest he has no intention of changing his ways.
3. Will harmful air pollution increase?
Pruitt has expressed hostility to rules limiting mercury, acid gas, carbon and smog pollution. If clean air program funding is scaled back, we’ll know he not only intends to go after these rules, but wants to hobble the EPA’s ability to carry out the entire Clean Air Act.
4. Will lead protection programs be weakened?
There is no safe level of lead, a known neurotoxin that that damages children’s IQs for the rest of their lives. While the EPA has made great strides reducing lead exposure from paints, gasoline, pipes, soil and so on, more than half a million American kids have elevated lead levels in their blood.
The Trump-Pruitt budget slashes funding for programs that are helping these kids.
5. Will climate action become a thing of the past?
Both President Trump and Administrator Pruitt have said that more study of climate change is needed before any action can be taken. Yet their new budget rips out all spending for climate research, education and action.
That includes zeroing out the Climate Action Plan, the landmark achievement of the Obama Administration that would impose the first-ever limits on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
Of course, neither the EPA nor the White House say they’re gutting the programs that keep our air and water clean. The administration knows that overwhelming majorities of the American people, including Trump voters, want those programs to stay strong.
Instead, they’ll continue to point to a few programs where they added money, or didn’t cut. They’ve added some money to a few favored programs, and are asking you to ignore the rest of their disastrous budget choices.
Except, the public won’t be fooled into thinking that massive budget cuts that eviscerate community and family environmental health protections are somehow good for America.
Instead, we’re all learning together on which side the Trump administration actually stands – not on the side of Americans, but on the side of polluters.