New US Budget Cuts EPA Funding, Laws Delayed

17.03.2017 -

The administration of new US president Donald Trump is quickly moving to put its election campaign promises into practice. Much of its activity focuses on overturning President Barack Obama’s healthcare legislation and undoing existing environmental rules safeguarding air and water as well as any other existing rules that the fossil fuels industry and in some cases chemical producers find burdensome.

After earlier this month issuing executive orders ending Obama’s clean and water initiatives, on Mar. 16 the White House released its proposed 2018 federal budget, which foresees stripping funding for government agencies across the board, while adding $52 billion in military spending.

As had been expected, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is being made to bear the brunt of the rollbacks. Its outlay for enforcing penalties against polluters is to be slashed by $129 million. Altogether, reports said, the proposed cuts – which still must be approved by Congress – reduce the agency’s budget by 23.5%.

Trump defended the defunding, arguing that the cuts are aimed at avoiding "duplication" between federal regulation enforcement and enforcement at state level. His appointment to head the EPA, former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, has consistently called for more environmental protection responsibility to be shifted to the states.

Observers said the budget cuts will seriously impair the EPA’s Superfund Redevelopment Initiative, a massive project designed to clean up “dangerously contaminated” land, much of it post-industrial or from disused mines.  Currently there are an estimated 1,337 active Superfund sites across the country, for which remediation spending is planned to be cut by $330 million to $762 million. Here, the White House said the savings would come would come out of "administrative costs and inefficiencies in the program.”

Cynthia Giles, former head of the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, told the newspaper Washington Post that the additional budget cuts “won’t just drastically reduce EPA enforcement, but bring it to a halt.“ The EPA's budget has already shrunk by as much as 20% from its 2010 peak.

US chemical storage law delayed by EPA

Three days before the budget cuts were announced, EPA head Pruitt said the administration would delay until June a new rule tightening safety requirements for companies that store large quantities of dangerous chemicals, imposed in 2013 following the explosion of a fertilizer plant at Williams ?  in the town of West, Texas, which killed 15 people.

Pruitt said he was delaying the implementation of the Obama era law, which would require companies to make public the types and quantities of chemicals stored on site, in response to complaints by the chemical industry and other business groups that this could make it easier for terrorists and other criminals to target refineries, chemical plants and other facilities.

The EPA announced the rule shortly before Trump took office, saying this would help prevent accidents and improve emergency preparedness by allowing first responders better data on chemical storage. The businesses, however, told Pruitt that complying would do "irreparable harm" to companies that store chemicals, as well as putting public safety at risk.