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EPA to States and Cities: This Is Your Job Now

President Trump’s proposed budget would slash funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, leaving states and localities with an extra burden.

Harvey Toxic Sites Underwater
Environmental advocates protest outside a regional EPA office in Dallas, Texas.
(AP/LM Otero)
President Trump on Monday released his proposed 2019 budget, which outlines steep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and shifts responsibility for some of the agency’s duties to states and localities.

Last year, however, the Republican-controlled Congress rejected a similar plan to drastically reduce spending at the agency. This year’s proposed budget likewise has little chance of passing in its current form, especially considering last week’s two-year budget deal, which largely rejected Trump’s previous calls for environmental protection cuts.

The proposed budget calls for $5.4 billion in funding for the EPA, which amounts to a $2.8 billion (or 34 percent) decrease from 2017 spending levels. The budget also proposes refocusing the agency’s “core activities" -- it would end the Climate Change Research and Partnership Programs as well as programs that protect marine life and promote environmental education. According to the White House, this reprioritization would save $600 million.

But parts of the budget don't seem to align with the administrations' own stated environmental goals. For instance, funding for the cleanup of Superfund sites -- the most contaminated and complex hazardous waste sites -- is named as one of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s top priorities, but it receives only $762 million in funding, which is more than a 30 percent reduction from 2017.

The budget outlines a new focus on states and localities as the principal stewards of environmental protection. The agency says it will abdicate “responsibilities that should be primarily for State and local governments," and it proposes to provide multi-purpose grants in the place of grants dedicated only to specific programs.

“This proposal would enable each State to set its own environmental priorities and quickly respond to threats as they arise,” the proposed budget reads.

Many states -- concerned about the human, financial and environmental toll of climate change and other environmental issues -- will likely take up such responsibilities. California Gov. Jerry Brown, an outspoken environmental advocate, has been vocal about his commitment to the state’s progress on environmental issues.

But others, such as Florida, will likely let such responsibilities drop. Gov. Rick Scott has consistently said that he remains unsure whether climate change is real and caused by humans.

Natalie previously covered immigrant communities and environmental justice as a bilingual reporter at CityLab and CityLab Latino. She hails from the Los Angeles area and graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in English literature.
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