Trump strives to cancel climate change efforts from federal budget

With the Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again presented on Thursday (March 16) U.S. president Trump strives to scrub expenditures to tackle climate change and support renewable energies. Dozens of programmes addressing climate change, the clean-up of environmental pollution and to improve energy efficiency are supposed to be shut down. In the area of health, the cuts are even larger in absolute numbers but not percentage-wise. The budget would benefit primarily the military. According to the New York Times, the director of the Office of Management and Budget said in a briefing that the proposal is “fair straightforward” on the issue of climate change as respective investments would be “a waste of money”.

As the Washington Post and The Guardian report, no agency in the federal government would be affected as much as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Budget of the EPA would be cut by almost one third or USD 2.6 billion to USD 5.7 billion. More than fifty programmes would be shut down and around one fifth of employees would lose their jobs: 3,200 of 15,000 workers to be exact. The cuts are even more severe as many in the EPA had braced for. According to Inside Climate News, the plans would put the number of staff to the lowest level since 1978. The budget proposal says in this consideration that the cuts would help the EPA to “focus on core legal requirements” and “ease the burden of unnecessary federal regulations that impose significant costs for workers and consumers without justifiable environmental benefits”. Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator, backs the cuts although the EPA has already suffered in recent years from extensive curtailments – in 2009 the budget was still at USD 10.3 billion according to an analysis of the Grantham Institute. As Reuters reported, representatives from California were already distributing flyers to EPA employees to recruit them saying “Fight Climate Change, Work for California”.

The budget proposal also targets to end any funding for the Clean Power Plan which has been at the heart of the efforts under the Obama administration to tackle climate change. The Plan which is currently stayed by the Supreme Court aims to reduce emissions from the power sector by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, mandating the EPA to take respective regulatory action. In addition, the budget of the EPA’s office of Research and Development is supposed to be cut by almost half (USD 250 million) according to the Washington Post. Additionally, other fields under the authority of the EPA shall be scrapped such as to clean-up hazardous substances in the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay or for the enforcement of clean air and water laws which are already considered to be insufficient. The budget proposal states that local and state government should undertake the related efforts although they face severe budget limitations as well.

Projects of the Department of Energy are to be cut, too. For instance, the Energy Star labelling programme for energy efficiency is supposed to be eliminated. The 25-year old programme saved an estimated USD24 billion to USD34 billion a year by enabling consumers to take better informed choices when buying new appliances according to Inside Climate News. The budget also aims to cut programmes that help technologies to becoming mature for commercialisation. For example, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy programme, created in 2007 under the Bush administration and which supported research in battery storage systems and other technologies with USD 300 million, would be terminated according to Reuters. Several programmes of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy which have been crucial to advance wind and solar technologies and to increase energy efficiency are supposed to be curtailed. Even fossil-oriented programmes would suffer under the budget proposal which says that “the private sector is better positioned to finance disruptive energy R&D and to commercialise innovative technologies”.

The cuts affecting the NASA and its efforts on climate change are not as considerable as feared. Nevertheless, four Earth science missions and the expenditures of the agency on education amounting to USD115 million would be eliminated according to the New York Times. Programmes of other agencies relating to climate change are expected to be shut down or curtailed, whereas the support for oil and gas drilling on public land is supposed to be expanded, as The Guardian reports.

Much more severe are the plans with respect to the State Department: the budget plan proposes to eliminate the Global Climate Change Initiative which funds all climate-related bilateral efforts as well as the U.S. contribution to the UNFCCC and the IPCC for their administrative cost.  Contributions to the Green Climate Fund shall be stopped although additional USD2 billion had been pledged according to Inside Climate News. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the spending of the State Department had been “simply not sustainable” in the past, assuring his willingness to deal with the situation.

However, as the BBC reports, the budget has to be passed by the Congress. Thereby, 60 Senators have to approve the budget plans, a majority of 60 percent. The Republicans have 52 seats in the Senate and several party members have already publicly opposed at least parts of the budget proposals. Swift reactions have been provoked from environmental advocacy groups. But also the former EPA administrator of the Obama administration has criticised the plans according to the Washington Post.


(Image: Environmental Protection Agency EPA. Source: mccready, flickr)