Imagine that a hostile foreign power covertly manipulated our democracy and government to impose on Florida and other coastal states heightened risks of catastrophic sea level rise and an intensification of hurricanes, floods, droughts, and diseases carried by insects and parasites. Suppose, too, that the same foreign government then set about to demolish the work of American institutions that prevent serious diseases and avoidable deaths to our people. Without doubt, we would regard those acts as threats to our national security. That's just how we should regard Donald Trump's proposal for a 31-percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) budget.
EPA's statutory obligations, as assigned by Congress, have increased significantly in recent years. Yet its budget has been steadily reduced by Congress over the past two decades. Its inflation-adjusted operating funds are now at the same level as they were in 1979. Its workforce has shrunk from 18,000 employees in 1999 to fewer than 15,000 today. Now the Trump administration proposes to lay off 3,200 more EPA employees in 2018.
The president's budget calls for zero dollars to fund the agency's work to combat or even measure climate change – a worsening problem recognized by an overwhelming majority of qualified scientists (and nearly all of the world's other nations) as the greatest environmental threat facing the planet. Trump's budget also recommends a 40-percent cut in EPA "categorical grants" to (mostly grossly underfunded) state and local environmental agencies – cuts that might well cause some small local agencies to close. It seeks drastic cuts to EPA's critical but short-staffed enforcement program and to the Superfund program that protects the public against exposure to hazardous chemicals, as well as the total elimination of numerous other beneficial EPA programs.
If anything remotely close to all that is ultimately adopted, the results will be devastating to the health of Americans and our natural bounty.
Since EPA's creation by President Nixon in 1970, its environmental rules have contributed literally trillions of dollars in benefits to U.S. residents – primarily as a result of air quality improvements that avoided hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths and prevented millions more cases of cancer, heart disease, asthma, stroke, and other serious illnesses. None of these crucial benefits are mentioned in the president's budget report. In contrast, the total costs of complying with environmental regulations (to which Trump's budget document does refer) have been reliably shown to be only a fraction of the vital benefits they yielded.
The administration's stated reason for proposing drastic cuts in EPA's budget is that looser environmental standards will help the economy. In fact, it'll do just the opposite. Increases in "green jobs," such as manufacturing pollution control equipment and solar panels and insulating homes, far outstrip the costs to industry of complying with requirements that they clean up their pollution, and they more than make up for any job losses that do stem from environmental regulations.
President Trump's radical budget proposal would have disastrous consequences for everyday Americans, now and far into the future. Here's hoping our elected representatives take a long, careful look at its potential effects and base their federal spending decisions on sound, well documented, and verifiable information, rather than myths, false narratives, and "alternative facts."