Trump’s $2.5 billion budget cut to EPA would hurt N.C. as funding is dropped to its lowest in 40 years

The environment affects us all. The same can be said of government budgets. Unfortunately, President Trump’s proposed budget would hurt all North Carolinians if the federal Environment Protection Agency (EPA) budget is cut by $2.5 billion, or 31 percent—the biggest cut of any federal agency. Adjusted for inflation, Trump’s proposed budget would cut EPA’s overall funding to its lowest level in 40 years.

Under Trump’s proposed budget, North Carolina could lose between $10 and $50 million in federal assistance in the 2018 fiscal year. This would be a significant loss considering federal funds make up half of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) budget. Of the $228 million base budget for DEQ in the 2017-18 fiscal year, federal funds cover $118 million.

On March 21, EPA’s Acting Chief Financial Officer issued a confidential and detailed 64 page plan communicating the final EPA funding levels the president would submit to Congress. It points out that EPA’s budget would be cut by 31 percent compared to last year, would lay off over 4,100 EPA employees, and would completely scrap over 55 programs. Some of the major eliminated programs focus on Safe Drinking Water, Sustainable and Healthy Communities, Air-Climate-Energy, Human Health Risk Assessment, Waste Management, Vehicle & Fuel Standards, Civil enforcement, Compliance, Audits & Investigations.

Currently, the EPA only accounts for about 0.2 percent of the annual federal budget. Though dollar spending on the EPA has increased since 1971, when adjusted for inflation, today’s spending is about the same it was back in 1981. As a result, Trump’s significant budget cuts to the EPA are concerning considering the agency has listed for various years its top five goals as:

  • Protecting America’s Waters
  • Cleaning Up Communities and Advancing Sustainable Development
  • Improving Air Quality
  • Ensuring the Safety of Chemicals and Prevent Pollution
  • Protecting Human Health and the Environment by Enforcing Laws and Assuring Compliance

That North Carolina would lose big with Scott Pruitt leading the EPA had been known even before Trump released his proposed budget. Given North Carolina’s coal ash waste pits and sea level rise along the Outer Banks, as well as health problems affecting communities near large-scale hog operations, the state faces various environmental conflicts that rely on EPA rules and funding to solve.  At the same time, the state has benefited economically from its natural resources being attractive to tourists and retirees and from the clean energy industry developing significant new technologies to advance environmentally sound energy use and grow jobs.

Though the EPA has delegated responsibility to North Carolina to implement Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act protections, the state is not always willing or able to do so. In just a two-year span between 2011 and 2013, DEQ’s budget was cut 40 percent, hampering its ability to fulfill its responsibility to enforce clean air and clean water safeguards. The prospects of reductions to the federal funding to support environmental protection will only compound that harmful choice.

Impact on North Carolina

NC Policy Watch Environmental Reporter Lisa Sorg pointed out last month that a lot is at stake across North Carolina when Trump significantly cuts the EPA budget. As of February 2017, North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) had 38 active EPA funded grants, worth over $100 million, supporting six of its divisions. Prior to Trump releasing his proposed budget in March, DEQ was projecting the state would receive and be able to activate later this year 12 new grants worth over $65 Million. It’s worth noting various DEQ divisions rely on federal funds to thrive and accomplish their mission of protecting North Carolinians.

However, under Trump’s proposed budget, North Carolina could lose between $10 and $50 million in the 2018 fiscal year. Our state would lose approximately $40 million a year for water infrastructure work alone if EPA’s two largest state and tribal grant programs are eliminated (the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund). Trump’s other EPA budget cuts would lead our state to lose at least $10 million.

If North Carolina receives less federal funding to cover the critical environmental work that EPA has historically assisted with, the state’s budget would be under more pressure to address other priorities involving health, public safety, agriculture, natural & economic resources, and general government functions.

Earth Day is April 22, and the theme is ‘Environmental and Climate Literacy’. This year, as the new administration attempts to curtail the role of the EPA and environmental protections, is the time for all of us to strive to learn more about local and global environmental issues. The first step is simple: recognize the environment—and government budget—affects us all.

Want to know more? See more analysis on how Trump’s budget: 1) lacks vision as it makes no attempt to balance the allocation of money against the needs and priorities of our country; 2) omits 85% of details that previous administrations have included; and 3) in North Carolina would eliminate funding to fight poverty and cut medical research projects.

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