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President Trump proposes steep budget cuts for U.S. EPA; orders review of landmark water rule

President Trump proposes steep budget cuts for U.S. EPA; orders review of landmark water rule
March 2, 2017 Gary Wilson
U.S. EPA staff in Chicago rally in early February to protest anticipated cuts at the agency. Photo courtesy Gary Wilson

President Donald Trump acted this week on long-stated plans to alter the way this country addresses environmental issues.

During his campaign, candidate Trump frequently attacked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He once called the work the EPA  does a “disgrace,” saying “every week they come out with new regulations.”

He used the EPA as an example of a federal bureaucracy that overreaches and inhibits economic growth.

On Tuesday, in a draft proposal of his first budget,  Trump floated a 24 per cent reduction to the EPA’s $8.1 billion annual funding.

If enacted, a cut of that magnitude would eliminate thousands of staff jobs and redefine the EPA’s mission. EPA employs 15,000 people at its headquarters in Washington, D.C. and at regional offices throughout the country.

The office serving the Great Lakes region is in Chicago, and has a specific portion of its work devoted to the Great Lakes. 

In early February,  EPA employees in Chicago held a rally to publicly protest the anticipated cuts.

Sherry Estes is an EPA staff attorney who attended the rally. She tells Great Lakes Now  there is a “bad atmosphere” in the agency.

“People are scared” about the looming cuts, Estes said.  Separate from the cuts, Estes wonders whether jobs at EPA “will be meaningful” if the agency’s mission is de-emphasized, as Trump has said it would be.

The draft EPA budget proposal goes to the agency for comment before the president submits his formal budget to congress later in March.

Republican Representative  David Joyce from Ohio is on the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee that will determine the final budget to be sent back to the White House.

Joyce has been instrumental in securing funding for the Great Lakes in recent years. His office did not respond to Great Lakes Now’s request to comment on the proposed EPA budget cuts.

Image of a lighthouse on Lake MichiganPresident orders review of Obama water rule

President Trump issued a long-anticipated order on Tuesday that directed the U.S. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to review the Waters of the United States rule promulgated under the Obama administration.

The controversial rule known as WOTUS defines which waterways come under the Clean Water Act and are therefore subject to regulations. The original intent of the rule was to clarify disparate and conflicting Supreme Court decisions on the subject.

Agriculture interests were strident opponents of the rule, who saw it  as regulatory overreach that went too far in telling farmers how they could manage their land.

“EPA has too long been characterized by regulatory overreach that disregards the positive conservation efforts of farmers and threatens their very way of life,” said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau on the bureau’s website.

Duvall said the bureau will “work to ensure that any revised rule is transparent and fair for America’s farmers and ranchers.”

Environmental and sportsmen groups strongly supported the rule and championed its passage as landmark action to protect the country’s waterways and natural habitat.

University of Michigan law professor David Uhlmann told Great Lakes Now that environmental groups will continue to defend WOTUS. “Their efforts are likely to prevail since there is an extensive scientific record to support the Obama administration rule, ” said Uhlmann,  who co-authored an amicus brief in the rule’s defense. 

The WOTUS rule was never implemented,  because lawsuits are still unresolved at the appellate court level.

It is expected that the Trump administration will withdraw the rule or more narrowly define what it covers.

 

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