The president’s 2019 budget proposal calls for many of the sharp cuts to Environmental Protection Agency personnel and programs that it requested in the 2018 budget proposal, which were struck down by Congress, according to a Feb. 20, 2018, Environmental Protection Network report.

“The damage inflicted on EPA by the Trump proposed budget for the fiscal year 2019 would be more punishing than for any other federal agency — slashing EPA’s budget by 26 percent from 2017. The impacts would be felt by families and communities across America,” the report said.

“The proposal echoes the administration’s FY 18 budget (except for increases to the Superfund program) and is likely, as it was last year, to be superseded by Congress. But by repeatedly suggesting cuts of this magnitude, it normalizes the expectation that EPA’s budget should be reduced dramatically.”

The Environmental Protection Network is a volunteer group of environmentally experienced teams from both Democratic and Republican administrations, whose mission is to “preserve and advance the nation’s bipartisan legacy of progress towards clean air, water and land and climate protection.”

The 2019 budget proposes just over $6 billion in appropriations for the EPA, a 26 percent reduction from 2017 funding levels. This includes a reduction of 2,574 EPA employees, or 17 percent of the agency’s current workforce.

According to the report, this reduction would be on top of significant staffing decreases that have occurred over the past five years, bringing the number of EPA employees to that of 1984 staffing levels.

“In that context, the proposed new reduction would eviscerate EPA’s ability to do its congressionally mandated work protecting the environment and human health. The staff reduction carried out by the administration since it took office on January 20, 2017, has been achieved largely through retirements, administrative actions like buyouts, and the imposition of a hiring freeze. These reductions have been carried out without a mandate from Congress to pursue [full-time employee] reductions, and the administration has made clear its intention to continue further reducing FTE levels, which is a serious concern,” the report said.

According to the report, the budget also eliminates 50 of the EPA’s programs entirely while drastically reducing funding for many others, such as funding for states and tribes.

“The administration argues these entities should play a larger role and receive less oversight from EPA. In theory, this is possible but in fact, states and tribes don’t have the financial capacity to increase their environmental funding, and they are highly dependent on technical and other support from the federal government. Federal funding provides, on average, more than 25 percent of the operating budgets for state and tribal environmental programs,” the report said. “These cuts will devastate state and tribal programs, including permitting, implementation and enforcement.”

The budget itself, while acknowledging the “significant environmental and public health gains” that the EPA has made, proposes the elimination of “lower priority” programs in favor of focusing on “core mission areas.”

However, according to the report, the 2019 budget proposes cuts to important nontraditional programs and traditional core programs alike.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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