Ecology Wins, Energy Loses in Stop-gap US Budget

03.05.2017 -

Many environmental programs administered by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well as science funding that had been earmarked for elimination or greatly reduced in scope under US President Donald Trump’s 2018 government spending budget have won a retrieve until the end of the current fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

In a compromise omnibus bill hammered out by the US Congress and unveiled on May 1 as part of a bipartisan effort to avoid a threatened government shutdown, some environment and science funding due to be axed under the Trump budget will be temporarily restored. However, clean energy measures still come out on the losing side, reports from Washington suggest.

To avoid a government shutdown, Congress must pass the agreed bill or another stop-gap measure by the end of this week, and he president must sign it. The compromise funds government programs until the end of September. The real test of which direction environment and science funding, will take under the Trump administration, however, will be seen in the drafting of the 2018 budget.

Whether Congress will eventually pass a budget for 2018 closer to the president’s previously announced plans is not clear, but conservative lobby group such as those backed by the Koch brothers, which own chemical companies such as nylon producer Invista, have said this continues to be their goal.

Under the Trump budget plan, the EPA was due to face funding cuts of $2.4 billion for the current fiscal year, which would have slashed its budget by 31%. Instead, the cuts will total only $81 million, or 1%, this year. Originally, 3,200 employees were to be culled from the agency’s 15,000-member workforce. There will be no job cuts for now, but the agency’s new conservative leadership is said to have already discussed massive layoffs with staff. The EPA already regarded as underfunded, so that the 1% loss is likely to be critical.

Independently of the budget talks, the EPA under its new head, former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt late last week went ahead with plans announced earlier to remove references to climate change from the agency’s website. The climate portal has been replaced with links to information on "energy independence.“ In a statement, the EPA’s new associate communications director said the changes involved removing “outdated language.“

Under the temporary compromise budget, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will see the $2 billion in funding pledged by Congress under the 21st Century Cures Act restored, widening its total half-year monies to $34 billion. The $2.8 billion in funding awarded to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over the period is $39 million more than in last year's budget. By contrast, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which among other things monitors the spread of plastics waste in the oceans, will receive only $5.7 billion, that is, $90 million below the funding enacted by Congress.

The president’s initial budget proposals foresaw $2 billion in cuts from the Energy Department’s offices of efficiency, renewable energy and other areas, along with an end to a number of programs, ranging from EPA’s Energy Star certification of appliances to the Energy’s loan guarantees for innovative clean-energy technology. In an about-face, some of energy research units Trump had planned to eliminate or slash are set to receive additional funding under the omnibus bill, although $808 million in funding for clean energy projects is nevertheless being cut.