Changing Planet

Cuts for EPA, DOE in Trump Budget Proposal, as Congressional Budget Passes

President Donald Trump’s $4.4 trillion 2019 budget proposal, released Monday, echoed themes from the previous year’s budget priorities: steep cuts to domestic programs with large increases for defense. It outlines leaner budgets across federal agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Trump’s proposed budget, which was assembled before the Congress passed a two-year spending bill last week, calls for the EPA to operate with $5.4 billion($6.15 billion after adjustments) beginning Oct. 1. That budget would be the EPA’s lowest since the early 1990s and about 25 percent below the 2017 mark of $8.1 billion.

The DOE would receive $30.6 billion, which is nearly 2 percent below its 2017 budget.

The proposal would also eliminate virtually all climate change-related programs at the EPA. In outlining the budget, the Trump administration said the EPA is refocusing on “core activities” and eliminating “lower priority programs,” including a program to promote partnerships with the private sector to tackle climate change.

The Trump administration said it wants to eliminate programs that are duplicative of those of other agencies or that it thinks state and local governments should assume—a proposal that appears to dovetail with the EPA’s strategic plan, also released Monday, that outlines a retrenchment around core issues like clean air, clean water, remediation of contaminated sites, and chemical safety. In place of program categories such as “clean air and global climate change,” Trump’s proposed budget allocates $112 million for a new line item called “core mission” and $357 million for “rule of law and process.”

Like climate-related programs at the EPA, DOE’s renewable energy programs are targeted for reductions in the proposal. According to numbers released by DOE, energy and related programs would receive $2.5 billion under the proposed 2019 budget, a drop of $1.9 billion from the 2017 budget. The Department of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy would take a 65 percent cut. By contrast, the Office of Fossil Energy would get a 20 percent funding increase.

Unlike Trump’s budget proposal, the bipartisan two-year budget deal passed last week appears to include government funding for climate-related programs. It gives the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers money to study weather patterns and to prepare for the consequences of disasters, and it preserves tax incentives for renewable energy sources, electric vehicles and energy efficiency programs.

Under the bipartisan deal, nondefense discretionary spending gets a $63 billion boost in fiscal year 2018 and another $68 billion in fiscal year 2019. Almost all research agencies, including the EPA, fall under this nondefense category. It’s still unclear how any funds will be divided among individual agencies and programs. Details of who gets what in the 2018 budget will come as Congress works on an omnibus appropriations bill, expected in late March.

Methane Emissions Regulation Revised

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will replace most of the requirements of a 2016 Obama-era regulation aimed at restricting harmful methane emissions from oil and gas production on federal lands. The Monday proposal came after a previous announcement that the BLM would delay implementing the Obama-era rule until January 2019.

The rule forced energy companies to capture methane that’s vented to the atmosphere or burned off (“flared”) at drilling sites because it pollutes the environment. Many companies consider the rule unnecessary and overly intrusive, but many environmental groups warn that methane emissions from oil and gas operations are the second largest industrial contributor to climate change in the United States.

The new BLM proposal removes at least seven elements introduced under Obama’s rule, including creation of waste minimization plans by companies and standards for well completion. In announcing the changes to the rule, the BLM said that many of the former requirements were duplicative of state laws or had a higher cost or lower benefit than previously estimated.

The BLM is expected to publish the proposed rule in the Federal Register, opening it up for 60 days of public comment before issuing a final rule could be issued.

But even as the Trump administration is retreating from regulating methane leaks, new researchpublished in the journal Climate Policy suggests it is still possible to make progress on reducing methane emissions by using a proposed North American Methane Reduction framework to direct research and to enhance monitoring and evaluate mitigation efforts.

This study, penned by my Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions colleague Kate Konschnik, suggests that state and provincial governments, industry, and nongovernmental organizations can use the framework to coordinate regulations, voluntary industry actions, and scientific developments in methane estimation and mitigation, thereby bridging the divide between science and policy and driving new research that in turn can support better policies when governments are ready to act.

California Adopts Emissions Standards for Trucks

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) voted unanimously to adopt emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks starting with the 2020 model year, departing from federal rules in two sectors. The state not only approved its own version of federal regulations covering truck trailers, but it is also making plans to conduct its own enforcement.

The state has special authority under the 1970 Clean Air Act to make its own pollution and greenhouse gas rules for “mobile sources” such as cars and trucks. Some are concerned that the Trump administration may attempt to unravel the state’s authority to set pollution standards that are higher than federal rules.

Comments made by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt to the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee leave open that possibility.

“Federalism doesn’t mean that one state can dictate to the rest of the country,” Pruitt said, noting that “we recognize California’s special status in the statute and we are working with them to find consensus around these issues.”

CARB Chairwoman Mary Nichols pointed to a 2013 waiver for California to implement its own, tougher tailpipe standards.

“The EPA would have to take unprecedented legal action to try to revoke that waiver,” she said. “Our best legal judgment is that that can’t be done.”

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Tim Profeta is the founding director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. The Nicholas Institute is part of Duke University and focuses on improving environmental policy making worldwide through objective, fact-based research in the areas of climate change, the economics of limiting carbon pollution, oceans governance and coastal management, emerging environmental markets and freshwater concerns at home and abroad. In his role at the Nicholas Institute, Profeta has continued to use his experience on Capitol Hill to engage in climate change debates. His research has focused, specifically, on market-based approaches to environmental regulations—particularly energy and climate change policy. Other projects engage his expertise in environmental law and air pollution regulation under the Clean Air Act.

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