Former U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said yesterday the Trump administration’s proposed budget "cuts EPA out of the picture" of environmental enterprise in the United States.
"This is really all about shifting the doctrine, the policy at EPA from one that for decades has supported the ‘polluter pays’ principle and turning into a policy that ‘pollution pays.’ This really is quite shocking," McCarthy said.
The former administrator under President Obama has spoken out sparingly against the Trump administration since leaving EPA. In a call to reporters yesterday afternoon, McCarthy repeatedly expressed dismay at the agency’s direction, saying that the government had a moral, as well as a legal and constitutional obligation, to protect the vulnerable members of society.
McCarthy noted that even if Congress makes modest improvements to the proposed budget, the cuts would still leave EPA "tremendously hamstrung" and would have significant impacts on public health as it rolls back action on climate change.
"I see the issue of climate change as one of the greatest existential challenges of our time. I know climate change is about public health, it’s about kids’ future, and I know what we are talking about here is an absolute moral obligation to our children and to our children’s children to give them a sustainable planet that they can thrive on," McCarthy said.
The fiscal 2018 budget, if enacted by Congress, would slash EPA’s budget by 31 percent, the largest cut to any federal agency. The proposal would eliminate nearly all the agency’s climate programs. The greenhouse gas reporting programs that would remain in place would be significantly hurt by cuts, McCarthy said.
The Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program would not be able to evolve and grow as Congress had intended, and EPA’s vehicle emissions testing lab would receive a "significant blow" from a 25 percent funding cut, she said. McCarthy questioned the timing of the cut on the heels of Volkswagen’s diesel emissions scandal.
"I don’t know why anyone would think now is the time to reduce enforcement," she said.
President Trump’s Office of Management and Budget director, Mick Mulvaney, yesterday defended cuts to climate programs as protecting the taxpayers from wasteful spending.
"What I think you saw happen during the previous administration, the pendulum went too far to one side, when we’re spending too much of your money on climate change and not very efficiently," Mulvaney said
Trump’s EPA budget also targets environmental programs such as Superfund site remediation, which Administrator Scott Pruitt has said he plans to make an agency priority.
The suggested funding changes track closely with the earlier budget proposal for the remainder of fiscal 2017, which Congress largely ignored earlier this year.
Still, Ali Zaidi, former associate director for natural resources, energy and science at the OMB under Obama, said people should be cautious about dismissing the budget as "dead on arrival."
"[The budget] matters a lot because it is an articulation of the administration’s values and priorities. Second, it matters to the faith communities, investors, entrepreneurs and scientists, all of whom are planning on long lead times, and this creates uncertainty for them," Zaidi said.
He described the budget cuts as "taking the horsepower out of the U.S. innovation engine" by slashing funding for EPA and DOE research and leaving the country without the data and analytics it needs to create more efficient environmental solutions. The cuts would also hurt investments that create jobs around the country.
"The budget is pulling back on the investments we need for long-term economic growth," Zaidi said.
The Rev. Lennox Yearwood, president and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus, called the White House budget "heartbreaking."
"Low-income communities are the first up on the chopping block and will feel the repercussions the worst," he said. "This budget isn’t just numbers on the page, this is real suffering for real people."
Yearwood added that EPA is facing continued problems with lead contamination in Flint, Mich., and East Chicago, Ind.
"This budget will create new suffering and also slash funding for places that still need to be fixed," he said. "This budget will literally mean we will let Americans die. That cannot happen."