White House proposes cutting EPA staff by one-fifth, eliminating key programs

WASHINGTON – The Office of Management and Budget has suggested deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget that would reduce its staff by one-fifth in the first year and eliminate several programs, according to multiple individuals briefed on the plan.

The plan to slash EPA’s staff from its current level of 15,000 to 12,000, which would through a buyout offer that could spur early retirements, is one of several changes the new administration has asked agency staff for comment on by mid-day Wednesday.

Other proposals, according to individuals briefed on the cuts who asked for anonymity because the decision is not yet final, include eliminating project grants to clean up brownfields, or abandoned industrial sites; a national electronic manifest system for hazardous waste; environmental justice programs and the Energy Star energy efficiency program. Climate change initiatives and funding for Alaskan native villages are also targeted for zero funding, according to one draft document.

The agency’s Office of Research and Development could face a cut of up to 42 percent, according to an individual apprised of the administration’s plans.

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S. William Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, said in an email that the proposed cuts would devastate critical federal financial support for communities across the country.

“These cuts, if enacted by Congress, will rip the heart and soul out of the national air pollution control program and jeopardize the health and welfare of tens of millions of people around the country,” Becker said.

The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Any such cuts would have to be codified through the congressional appropriations process, and would likely face resistance from some lawmakers. But the initial proposal reflects an overall push by the administration to boost federal funding for defense while cutting back on discretionary spending elsewhere, including at EPA.

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Greenpeace spokesman Travis Nichols said in an email it is not accidental that the cutbacks would disproportionately affect poorer Americans and minorities.

“While this ‘zero out’ strategy would impact nearly every community in the United States, a close examination shows the burden of these cuts will fall hardest on the health of low-income Americans and people of color,” Nichols said. “This is environmental racism in action.”