WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a new, more detailed plan for laying off 25 percent of its employees and scrapping 56 programs including pesticide safety, water runoff control, and environmental cooperation with Mexico and Canada under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
At a time when the agency is considering a controversial rollback in fuel efficiency standards adopted under President Barack Obama, the plan would cut by more than half the number of people in EPA's division for testing the accuracy of fuel efficiency claims.
It would transfer funding for the program to fees paid by the automakers themselves.
The spending plan offers the most detailed vision yet of how the 31 percent budget cut to the EPA ordered up by President Donald Trump's Office of Management and Budget would diminish the agency.
The plan calls for even deeper reductions in staffing than earlier drafts. It maintains funding given to states to administer waste treatment and drinking water. But as a result, the budget for the rest of EPA is slashed 43 percent.
The Trump administration says the EPA cuts reflect a philosophy of limiting federal government and devolving authority to the states, localities and, in some cases, corporations. But environmental groups say the Trump administration is answering the call of companies seeking lax regulation and endangering Americans' air and water.
In a memorandum at the front of the March 21 document, the EPA's acting chief financial officer David A. Bloom said the agency would now "center on our core legal requirements," eliminating voluntary activities on scientific research, climate change and education, and leaving other activities to state and local governments.
The $5.7 billion EPA budget will likely undergo massive rewriting by congressional lawmakers, but the document is a declaration of intent by the Trump administration — one that sets the agency fundamentally at odds with the environmental policies of the past eight years and in some cases nearly three decades.
Because of the sweeping cuts to scientific programs, the administrator's own Science Advisory Board budget would be cut 84 percent. As the document explains, it would not need much money due to "an anticipated lower number of peer reviews."
Reductions in research funds will curtail programs on climate change, water quality, and chemical safety, and "safe and sustainable water resources," the document said.
Ken Kopocis, who headed EPA's Office of Water in 2014 and 2015, said in an interview that the $165 million proposed cut to the agency's pollution program would deprive farmers of critical funds to help curb agricultural runoff.
Several congressional Republicans have expressed support for reorienting the EPA's mission, though lawmakers are likely to restore some of the funding.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said in a statement, "There is room to cut wasteful programs in EPA's budget and at the same time, realign how taxpayer money is best allocated" by "giving states greater say in how they protect and manage their resources."
In a recent interview, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., said that some of the members of the scientific advisory boards scheduled for cuts had political biases. "They're going to have to start dealing with science, not rigged science."