President’s Proposed 2020 Budget Would Make Significant Cuts to Departments with Environmental Impacts

On March 11, the White House released its proposed budget, A Budget for a Better America, for 2020. It is premised on the slogan of “Promises Kept. Taxpayers First.” The budget seeks to have most executive departments and agencies cut their budgets by at least 5%, but the proposed cuts are larger for departments and agencies with activities related to the environment. Nowhere within the budget message of the President are concepts related to global warming or the environment in general mentioned. Unsurprisingly, border security and the President’s proposed border wall receives the highest priority.

The budget outlines a request of $20.8 billion for the Department of Agriculture. This constitutes a 15% or $3.6 billion decrease from the current estimates for FY 2019. Under the budget, agricultural research and forest management to combat fires would receive more money. The Administration is looking to save money through moving people off the SNAP nutrition program and eliminating some subsidies to farmers.

The Department of Commerce would see a budget increase of 9.3% for a total budget of $12.2 billion. Some of this increase can be attributed to the decennial census in 2020. Support for weather satellites and data collection systems is also included. A portion of the budget is also being set aside in order to streamline the permitting process at NOAA. However, the reasoning for the streamlining is to ensure that environmental reviews under the ESA and Marine Mammal Protection Act related to oil, gas, energy, and transportation permits proceed through the system quicker. Even with an increased budget, the Administration is seeking to eliminate several NOAA grants including Coastal Zone Management Grants and the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund.

The Department of Energy request comes in 11% lower than the 2019 enacted level at $31.7 billion. Much of the discussion in the proposed budget centers on funding nuclear weapons programs, nuclear weapons, and cleanup of nuclear materials. Spending on energy research and infrastructure is considered. The Administration also proposes divesting federally owned and operated transmission assets, such as federal dams, as well as authorizing Power Marketing Administrations to charge electricity rates comparable to investor-owned utilities.

The Department of the Interior would lose 14% from the 2019 budget amounts for a total of $12.5 billion. Some of the funds are earmarked towards the continued reorganization of the DOI into its 12 new unified regions as well as a move of offices and staff. Monies to decrease the risk of wildfires would see an increase.  $293 million would go to reducing the deferred maintenance backlog of $12 billion at the National Park Service. There would also be an increase in the development of energy on public lands and offshore including oil and gas leasing both offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The budget also includes an investment in the Public Lands Infrastructure Fund in order to repair facilities at National Parks and forests, wildlife refuges, Bureau of Indian Education schools, and on other public lands. The budget would support funding for science at the USGS in the areas of natural hazards, water, energy, minerals, and other natural resources. The budget for land acquisitions would be decreased. Just like the Department of Commerce, the DOI budget would seek to streamline environmental review for permitting requests.

The Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works budget request comes in at $4.8 billion, which is a massive decrease of 31% from 2019. The budget proposes not beginning any new construction projects as well as operating and maintaining current infrastructure. The budget proposes the sale of the Washington Aqueduct, which supplies the District of Columbia, Arlington Country Virginia, and parts of Fairfax County Virginia.

The EPA also faces a 31% budget reduction with the request for $6.1 billion. The money would be used to focus on the core agency activities of clean air, land, and water, as well as chemical safety. Funds would be used to promote regulatory and permitting reform, which essentially provides fewer environmental checks on industry. Funding would also be used to set “appropriate” air pollution standards, which have so far meant less restrictive standards. The budget supports research and development in air quality, water resources, sustainable communities, chemical safety, and human health risk assessment. Monitoring of the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes would receive funding under the budget. $1 billion would be added to the Hazardous Substance Superfund Account.

NASA would see a 1.4% increase with a budget request of $21 billion. However, most of the increase and indeed the budget for the agency in general focuses on space exploration including a push for new lunar landings.

It is important to note that this is merely a budget request from the President to Congress. Congress will ultimately decide on the exact funding levels at all executive departments and agencies using its power of the purse. Therefore, it is highly likely that funding levels will change when Congress makes its final appropriations for FY 2020.

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