The Mark UP

A Budget That Scorches the Planet

Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

President Trump opened a new front in his assault on our environment and health on Tuesday, releasing detailed budget proposals that amount to a scorched-earth campaign — literally and figuratively.

The budget calls for draconian cuts in programs that help clean up and protect our air, water, and lands from toxic pollution; support for energy efficient appliances that save families billions of dollars in energy costs each year; and the scientific research we depend on to grasp and confront emerging threats.

Generally, a president’s budget recommendations provide the starting point for debate in Congress, which has ultimate control over federal spending. This version falls short of that standard. Congress should ignore the president’s reckless recommendations and start from scratch with a budget that reflects our right to clean water and air and the long-standing American values around the need to leave our children a livable world.

Of every dollar the federal government spends, one-fifth of a penny goes to support the work of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — one-fifth of a penny to the agency charged with cleaning up our air and water and protecting us from dangerous pollution.

Trump wants to cut that by 31 percent, to reduce environmental protection resources next year by $2.6 billion — the same amount he wants taxpayers to spend to build a wall and otherwise buttress security along the U.S.-Mexico border. The cuts Trump has proposed would hobble the EPA so much that it would jeopardize the agency’s ability to do its job as required by law, exposing Americans to needless risk.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt calls this going “back to basics.” Going back — period — is more like it. The $5.7 billion Trump has proposed to fund the EPA next year would take the agency back to its lowest funding level since 1990. Adjusted for inflation, it’s the lowest level in 40 years, a period during which the U.S. economy has nearly tripled in size and the population has grown about 50 percent.

Our society has become larger and more complex, and so have the environmental hazards we face. We won’t build a more vibrant and prosperous nation by turning our back on those threats.

Nor can we balance the budget by focusing on one-fifth of 1 percent of spending. That’s not what this is about. It’s about taking the top environmental steward off the beat so fossil fuel companies and other industrial polluters are free to threaten the rest of us with toxic pollution and environmental ruin.

It’s about abandoning efforts to clean up iconic waterways like the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay. It’s about crippling our ability to clean up toxic chemicals from shuttered factories or cleaning contamination from our rivers and wetlands. It’s about curtailing our capacity to monitor the air we breathe for pollutants like mercury, soot, and radon. And it’s about cutting the legs out from under the progress we’re making at home and abroad in the fight against global climate change.

Also on the chopping block is the EPA’s Energy Star program. A popular tool that helps consumers choose energy efficient refrigerators, washing machines, and other appliances, Energy Star has saved our families more than $360 billion in utility bills since 1992, all while reducing our national carbon footprint. Why would we get rid of such a program?

Trump also wants to slash funding for U.S. Department of Energy work to help advance clean, renewable wind and solar power. And he wants to eliminate the department’s Weatherization Assistance Program, which has helped more than seven million low-income families make their homes more comfortable while cutting energy waste. These cuts don’t make sense — and they undermine one of the fastest-growing segments of the economy: the clean energy sector that employs more than three million American workers.

EPA spending on science and technology would be whittled down by nearly half, eliminating essential research in areas like air quality, water pollution, oceans protection, climate change, and the links between toxic chemicals and human health. Similarly, Trump’s budget would also cut important work by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which monitor and track global changes to the earth’s oceans, polar ice caps, atmospheric temperatures, and carbon dioxide levels.

To see a threat and not respond is foolish. To shut down the basic science that tells us what’s happening to our planet is reprehensible. Closing our eyes to a problem won’t make it go away, no matter how this president tries to tell us it will.

Congress must ignore Trump’s reckless assault on the priorities we share and the progress we’ve made, and instead invest in what we all hold dear: our health, our environment, and our children’s future.

Rhea Suh is president of NRDC and the NRDC Action Fund.