President Trump Proposes Reducing and Refocusing Environment and Energy Spending

Published March 30, 2020

The Trump administration recently submitted its proposed fiscal year 2021 budget, which would significantly cut funding for certain climate change-focused programs at several government agencies.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Department of Energy (DOE) would be affected by the plan, which would refocus regulatory and research efforts by the agencies away from climate change and alternative energy development and toward each of the agencies’ core functions.

Protecting Public Health

The White House’s proposal would cut EPA’s budget by more than 25 percent, reducing the agency’s Office of Science and Technology’s budget to $478 million, a 33 percent budget cut.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler says the goal is to streamline operations by employing commonsense deregulatory actions to eliminate duplicative, sometimes contradictory regulatory requirements, while refocusing efforts on the agency’s core function of protecting public health.

For fifty years, EPA employees and our many partners have worked together to fulfill the agency’s mission to protect human health and the environment,” Wheeler said in a statement. “Today, Americans enjoy cleaner land, air, and water than ever before.”

EPA’s press release outlines the agency’s redoubled efforts to protect children’s health, including a newly established $50 million flexible grant program to identify and address risks to children, including at older K-12 schools that may contain environmental hazards.

EPA’s budget also outlines a new series of efforts to detect lead in drinking water and to remediate lead-based paint and lead-contaminated soil, including an additional $45 million to support the Lead Exposure Reduction Initiative, a cross-media effort to reduce lead exposure, particularly among children.

Under the Trump administration’s budget proposal, EPA would also dedicate more than a billion dollars to Brownfields Projects, a program that redevelops formerly contaminated commercial and industrial sites for a productive use. The allocation includes $18 million specifically to support projects in qualified Opportunity Zones, located primarily in low income and minority areas. 

Emphasizing Commerce

For the third year in a row, the Trump administration proposes significantly reducing funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is part of the Department of Commerce. The proposal deemphasizes research on climate change, cutting funding for the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research by more than 40 percent, to $327 million, and refocusing the agency’s efforts on research and activities aimed at improving the nation’s economic competitiveness.

Neil Jacobs, Ph.D., Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction, whom Trump has nominated to run the agency, says the administration’s proposal supports NOAA’s goals of reducing the impacts of extreme weather and water events to save lives, protect property, and maximize the economic contributions of ocean and coastal resources.

Although the Trump administration has proposed cutting NOAA’s budget by 16 percent, it would significantly increase funding for key programs, including an increase of $8,514,000 to support mapping the ocean within the U.S. exclusive economic zone, an increase of $44,115,000 for the Space Weather Follow-On program, and an increase of $3,200,000 to establish a Tornado Warning Improvement and Extension Program to improve the accuracy and timeliness of tornado forecasts, predictions, and warnings. 

Promoting Energy Dominance

The proposed DOE budget cuts include eliminating the Office of Science’s Advance Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and reducing the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s budget by 74 percent.

Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette says the proposed 2021 budget would fund vital priorities such as promoting America’s continued rise as an energy-independent nation, enhancing national security through modernization of the nation’s nuclear deterrent, and advancing transformative scientific innovation and environmental cleanup.

“President Trump’s budget underscores the importance of nuclear security by increasing funding to modernize and maintain our nuclear stockpile,” Brouillette said in a press release. “It focuses on intradepartmental collaboration to advance crosscutting priorities such as energy storage, security, reliability, and resilience.

“It also continues investment in early-stage research and development at our National Laboratories to guarantee that the United States is at the forefront of innovative technology and innovation by investing $1.5 billion in the administration’s Industries of the Future initiative,” Brouillette said.

Calls Reform Long Overdue

ARPA-E is unnecessary because the private sector already has the incentives and resources to undertake the agency’s programs, and businesses and people don’t need the government’s guidance to make the energy choices that work best for them, says Marlo Lewis Jr., a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

“ARPA-E’s budget itself states ‘the private sector has the primary role in taking risks to finance the deployment of commercially viable projects and government’s best use of taxpayer funding is in earlier stage R&D,'” Lewis said. “Although ARPA-E’s $38.5 million program to ‘develop technologies to rehabilitate natural gas distribution pipelines’ is a worthwhile idea, natural gas distributors have the most to gain, and their sales vastly exceed $38.5 million a day, so there is no reason taxpayers should be on the hook for pipeline rehab R&D.

“Competitive markets already drive businesses to cut costs, including energy expenditures, and consumers already have an incentive to purchase energy-efficient appliances provided those appliances do not cost too much and actually perform as advertised, so there is little need for additional government support for investment in energy efficiency,” Lewis said.

The Trump administration should go even further and end federal ownership of electric power infrastructure, Lewis says.

“It is high time to begin reducing or even eliminating the federal government’s role in electricity transmission infrastructure ownership,” Lewis said. “Allowing private ownership of federal dams, for example, would introduce more market-based incentives, encouraging a more efficient allocation of economic resources, allowing rate competition, and mitigating risk to taxpayers.”

Duggan Flanakin ([email protected]) writes from Austin, Texas.