In March, the Trump administration released an outline of their proposal for funding the federal government in 2018. It was the first look at their priorities and vision for how the federal government should function and what it should do. And it was pretty disturbing.
This week, the administration released their full proposal for the 2018 budget. It is a lot more thorough than the earlier outline – and, if possible, even more extreme.
In March, we summed up the administration’s views on funding this way:
- That working to stop climate change is not the government’s job.
- That programs designed to serve rural America, widely credited with electing President Trump into the White House, are unnecessary.
- That states, most of which are struggling with long-running budget shortfalls, should pick up the cost of environmental protection and responding to health emergencies.
- That diverting resources from government programs designed to protect people and communities is a justifiable way to pay for a buildup of the military and a future tax cut.
- That corporate profits matter more than people’s health or the environment.
After plowing through the details of the administration’s full budget proposal, unfortunately all these themes are still in play. In addition to what we saw in the March proposal, this version also calls for deep cuts in safety net programs like Social Security insurance for low-income people with disabilities, Medicaid, financial help for low income families to pay for home heating and the earned income tax credit. The areas slated for substantial increases are funding for veterans, the Department of Homeland Security (including more than $2 billion for a border wall) and the military. The proposal also assumes that a future tax cut will fuel future economic growth, an assumption that has been widely criticized as unrealistic.
But remember – this is not a done deal. It’s a step in a long process, essentially an opening bid Congress will use to finalize government spending before the next fiscal year starts on October 1. That means your members of Congress need to hear from you, loud and clear, that the President’s vision is wrong and you expect them to stand up for people’s health and the environment.
Trump’s budget proposal would be disastrous for the climate. It would incentivize massive increases in destructive fossil fuel production and wipe out clean, renewable energy programs. It would allow oil and gas drilling in virtually every corner of the country, including our national parks, offshore sanctuaries and places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. It also calls for an 11% increase in the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons program while cutting its clean energy initiatives, including the work of the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy office by 70%.
In addition to calling for the elimination of international climate change programs, climate change research and partnership programs, and EPA efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions, the proposed budget takes the administration’s commitment to denying climate change to an entirely new level by eliminating an EPA program to track CO2 emissions from U.S. industry sources. The budget seems determined to propel the country, and the world, even more quickly into the pending climate crisis by scrapping virtually every federal initiative and program to address greenhouse gas emissions across a whole host of agencies. At the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the plan would eliminate grants and education program, which would include efforts to study and prepare for climate change in coastal communities, which could bear the brunt of the damage from climate change.
This backwards view of climate policy is not only wrong environmentally, it is also economically shortsighted. Jobs in the renewable energy, energy efficiency and alternative vehicle sectors are outpacing the fossil fuel electricity industry — investing in renewable energy is not just cost effective, it will create jobs, improve public health and help us prevent the unpredictable and dangerous impacts of climate change.
Not surprisingly, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is singled out in the Trump budget proposal for major abuse, with the biggest proposed cut (by percentage of its budget) of all federal agencies. The proposal calls for a 31% cut, taking the agency’s budget to a historic low, and calls for roughly 25% of the agency’s staff to be cut.
But the abuse doesn’t stop there. The proposal calls out specific programs for elimination, including:
- Energy Star (which provides efficiency ratings for appliances that saves consumers money on their utility bills);
- Regional water quality efforts such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Chesapeake Bay program
- Infrastructure assistance to Alaskan Native villages and Mexico border towns
- The Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program (which screens pesticides, chemicals, and environmental contaminants for potential impacts on human hormone systems)
- Environmental Justice programs
And just because a program doesn’t appear on that list doesn’t mean it’s safe in the Trump budget plan. The plan proposes significant cuts to Superfund (a program to clean up hazardous waste sites) and the Office of Enforcement (a move that could cripple the agency’s ability to actually go after companies that break our environmental laws and regulations).
States would lose support that they rely on under this proposal, which would eliminate a long list of grant programs such as those funding state and tribal efforts on radon, lead poisoning and beach protection. And for those that weren’t marked for elimination, the proposed budget would significantly cut remaining state and tribal assistance grants for things like state and local air quality management, enforcing drinking water standards to make sure tap water is safe, underground waste injection control and pesticides program implementation.
As part of the attack on safety net programs, the proposed Trump budget calls for a 25% cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) over the next decade. Almost 44 million people received some help from this program last year, so any cuts to this program could make it harder for millions of people, including children, to get the food they need.
On top of this question of support for people to buy the food they need, the proposal would also impact the parts of the federal government that regulate how our food is produced. It calls for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be cut by 20% and the Department of Health and Human Services (home to the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to be cut by 16%.
The Trump budget proposal does call for a slight increase in funding for USDA’s meat and poultry inspection program for 2018. But it recycles an idea that has been proposed many times but never put in place, to charge the meat and poultry industry user fees to fund USDA inspection of their product. This is not only unpopular with the industry, but it’s also a terrible idea for consumers because it would create a huge conflict of interest if industry was paying for the workforce that conducts inspections. The budget proposal also revisits a long-running controversy over which part of the federal government should be responsible for inspection which foods, by calling for the USDA to give responsibility for inspecting catfish back to the Food and Drug Administration. (Congress shifted catfish inspection to USDA in 2008, at the urging of the catfish industry, which wanted more stringent inspection to help level the playing field between domestic producers and imported products.)
Food safety at the FDA doesn’t fare as well in the Trump budget proposal. The proposal would cut FDA by $83 million, with targeted reductions to the Food Safety program, including reducing staff levels and funding for controls on food safety imports and research into food safety technology, outbreak responses, and implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act that has never been fully funded since it was passed in 2011. The budget also proposes over a billion dollars in cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including a cut of over 10% to the center that tracks and coordinates responses of state and local public health departments to foodborne illness and other outbreaks.
It’s not just food safety standards that may suffer if this proposal were to go into effect. The proposed budget calls for a cut of nearly a million dollars to the USDA’s National Organic Program, resulting in vacant staff positions left unfilled, an end to publicly available transcripts of the meetings where organic standards are debated and a call for “volunteers” to perform technical reviews of synthetic chemicals being considered for use in organic agriculture that are currently done by paid experts.
Other parts of the proposed budget for USDA demonstrate a striking disregard for the needs of rural communities and farmers, which is a slap in the face to those rural voters who helped the President get elected. It calls for reduced staffing for service centers around the country that would seriously impact farmers and rural communities who need to access USDA programs and encourages privatization of programs dedicated to spreading conservation practices in farming. And it would cut USDA’s statistic-collection efforts, which play a vital role in helping agriculture markets and farmers themselves plan for future production.
The proposal also attacks a program explicitly dedicated to helping small rural communities improve their water systems by eliminating a loan and grant program for clean water and sewer systems in communities with less than 10,000 people. The plan incorrectly calls this program “duplicative” because there are other federal programs for water infrastructure. This shows how out of touch the administration is with how rural communities work, because small water systems in rural areas are rarely able to access loans and grants (or private financing) when they are being compared to larger cities applying for the same funds.
One important program that escaped the axe in the proposal for the EPA was State Revolving Funds (SRF) for water infrastructure. In fact, the proposal calls for a slight increase in the SRF program, bringing it up to $2.3 billion for 2018. But this is nowhere near what is needed to address infrastructure needs nationwide. Federal funding for water infrastructure has declined 82% since a peak in 1977, and it’s estimated that water utilities will need to spend at least $697 billion over the next twenty years to provide safe water and keep waterways clean. This is why we need the WATER Act (HR 1673) to fully meet our water needs.
Trump’s proposal also includes $20 million for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program, a new water financing program that will likely subsidize corporate water projects and will not help Flint or other disadvantaged communities address their serious drinking water problems. WIFIA has 11 criteria for prioritizing which projects get funding, not one of which addresses human health, water quality compliance or affordability. Instead, WIFIA prioritizes funding to large-scale projects, to privatized projects and to projects serving areas with oil and gas development.
In the days leading up to the release of the budget proposal there was some hype that it would include details to flesh out the administration’s promise to fix the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. The fine print does offer a few details, but like just about everything else in this proposal, the approach is totally wrong. The budget proposes spending $200 billion over the next decade on infrastructure, which is far below the often-repeated claim that ofa $1 trillion infrastructure package. The explanation given is that this $200 billion will incentivize enough private financing from Wall Street and other investors to create $1 trillion in activity. The major way to incentivize this private investment? Stripping away environmental reviews of new projects and rolling back regulations. The plan also calls for counting projects the administration has already approved, like the climate-wrecking Keystone XL pipeline, towards the total of $1 trillion.
In addition to funny math, the proposal included some principles for the infrastructure effort, including encouraging localities and states to pay for infrastructure, selling off federal assets to private companies and encouraging privatization. Overall, it is a recipe for disaster. It completely misses the mark for our water infrastructure needs and will leave rural, small and low-income communities with unsafe water while spreading the failed approach of letting private companies control our water infrastructure.
This isn’t the full list of bad ideas in Trump’s budget – just a selection of the worst ones for our food, water, and climate. But they make Trump’s priorities clear: he’s ready to put the greed of corporations ahead of the needs of people. Tell your members of Congress to stand up for people’s health and the environment in the budget battle.