The White House Office of Management and Budget released on Tuesday the Trump administration’s first full budget proposal for the 2018 fiscal year (starting in October 2017). The comprehensive proposal provides detail about the administration’s policy priorities. If the budget is adopted by Congress as written, the Environmental Protection Agency would face its greatest budget cuts ever. These cuts would broadly impact federal environmental efforts, including the enforcement of federal environmental laws.
President Trump’s proposed budget would decrease funding for EPA dramatically—reducing its budget by 31.4 percent, to roughly $5.7 billion. The proposal specifically targets EPA’s compliance and enforcement programs for reduction by requesting only $419 million for EPA enforcement in the 2018 fiscal year, down $129 million (approximately 20 percent) from the $548 million appropriated in the 2017 continuing resolution. Although limited on detail, the proposal states this reduction “allows the agency to maintain a core enforcement oversight role to ensure a consistent and effective program, but eliminates duplication of enforcement actions carried out by the States, and focuses Federal enforcement efforts in those States that do not have delegated authority.” EPA’s own summary of the proposed budget describes a focus on “assuring compliance with our nation’s environmental laws,” consistent regulatory enforcement that levels the playing field, ensuring that those that fail to comply with the law do not have an unfair advantage over their law-abiding competitors, and prioritizing inspections, monitoring and enforcement activities based on the degree of health and environmental risk. The summary further emphasizes increased coordination with states in compliance monitoring activities and civil enforcement efforts, while focusing EPA’s criminal enforcement resources on “the most egregious cases.”
The proposed decreased funding for EPA enforcement activities closely tracks what the administration previously outlined in its budget “blueprint,” released in March, which we discussed in a previous post. Congress’ spending measure to fund the government through the end of the 2017 fiscal year, passed after the president’s budget blueprint was released, only included relatively minor cuts to EPA’s budget, however. Thus, it is unclear how the administration’s budget proposal for EPA in FY 2018 will be received on Capitol Hill. Many in Congress have already expressed opinions on the budget proposal’s likely success, however, with members from both sides of the aisle pointing to items such as the elimination of Chesapeake Bay cleanup funds as nonstarters before Congress. Congress must pass a budget for the 2018 fiscal year, or a stopgap measure, by September 30 this year.
The administration may still try to downsize EPA, even if the fiscal year 2018 proposal is not passed by Congress, by reducing available enforcement personnel via buyouts. Even before the fiscal year 2018 budget proposal was released EPA had already announced plans to reduce staff in FY 2018 through an employee buyout and early retirement program. EPA announced plans to set aside $12 million for the buyout effort, although Congress did not designate any funds for this purpose. EPA’s justification for the budget proposal asks for roughly $68 million to continue its “workforce reshaping” efforts in 2018. While this effort aims at EPA as a whole, keeping a watchful eye on retirements/departures in the various enforcement offices will provide some insight into enforcement capacity and priority in the coming years.