Transition Chief Floats 50-Percent Cut to EPA

Ebell says just half of the government agency needed to provide core mission on air, water

by Brian McNicoll | Updated 14 Feb 2017 at 7:30 AM

Myron Ebell, who headed President Donald Trump’s transition team at the Environmental Protection Agency, said if it were up to him, the president would reduce agency funding by half and employees by two-thirds. But which half? And which two-thirds? What would remain of the EPA if the president enacted Ebell’s plan or something similar to it?

Scott Slesinger, legislative director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, is worried that much of what we have come to rely on the EPA to do would be undone.

“What could be more important than protecting our nation’s waters, improving our air, and managing the lead we own as a nation?” asked Scott Pruitt.

Ebell’s prescription would, “cripple environmental protection across the board, putting at risk the health and well-being of every man, woman, and child in our country,” Slesinger said, “We’d face greater exposure to contaminated drinking water, toxic air pollution, unsafe pesticides, stalled Superfund cleanups, hazardous oil and waste spills and a host of other dangers — not the least of which is dangerous climate change.”

Ebell, who heads the energy and environment team at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, makes clear he does not speak for Trump and cannot say whether Trump plans to enact any of his plans. However, gleaning from statements made by Trump, Ebell, and others, Slesinger’s comments appear to be almost exactly wrong.

Climate change does appear to be the least of President Trump's concerns, but clean air and water do appear to be some of his top priorities. And if the president's goals are realized, Americans can look for a leaner EPA that is also better focused on the mission Americans count on it to carry out.

Asked by a group of Florida small business owners about his environmental priorities, President Trump said, "Immaculate air and crystal clear water." Scott Pruitt, the new EPA administrator, outlined similar priorities at his confirmation hearing.

"What could be more important than protecting our nation's waters, improving our air, and managing the lead we own as a nation?" said Pruitt, who has sued the agency he now leads 14 times, mostly for federal overreach.

Pruitt, Ebell, and others have indicated they believe the priority will be on helping states strengthen their own environmental efforts. Pruitt said state regulators know best what needs to happen within their borders, and the federal role should be to help them accomplish this through grant programs and other support.

Today, such grants consume about half the agency's $8.1 billion budget, and Ebell told The Washington Post the EPA "is looking at a significant cut every year for the duration of the Trump administration." And because Trump plans to keep grants to states for environmental infrastructure, such as water treatment plants, "I don't see any way you can make those [other] cuts without reducing the number of employees."

Ebell's plan calls for reducing the payroll from 15,000 employees to 5,000. He acknowledged such cuts as an "aspirational goal," but argued, "You're not going to get Congress to make significant cuts unless you ask for significant cuts."

The employee unions and their friends in the mainstream press continue to try to make this about air and water. Stories have emerged claiming EPA staffers are crying as they go about their duties.

"It's really a slap in the face appointment to people who care about the environment, people who worked at EPA for 30 years to try to make the air and water better, people who are still at EPA trying to do a credible job and be actual public servants, people who care about public service in general," Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project and a former EPA director, told the liberal site ThinkProgress.

But despite the hysteria, it's clear the Trump administration isn't looking to dramatically cut air and water enforcement, but rather eliminate funding for global warming research and abatement. That goes for agencies across government, spanning from the Department of Commerce to the Department of State and over to the Department of Energy and EPA.

Ebell pointed out Trump made it very clear on the campaign trail he intends to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, defund U.S. participation in all U.N. climate organizations, including the International Panel on Climate Change, withdraw the Climate Action Plan, and end the Clean Power Plan before it even begins.

On Day One, the administration began to remove all mention of global warming on its various websites. It began with the White House website and continued through sites operated by the EPA, Department of Commerce, and Department of State.

The Alaska Forum for the Environment, which brings together 1,800 people from Native Alaska communities, government agencies, and the public to discuss climate-related issues — such as permafrost and risk of rising sea levels to coastal villages — got an up-close look at this new reality when the Trump administration ordered the 34-staffer EPA delegation cut in half.

It targeted employees from Washington, D.C., and others for whom travel to the remote location was most expensive. Sending only 17 staffers to the conference constituted attempts from the Trump administration to curtail "government transparency and public access to important information," according to Melinda Pierce, legislation director for the Sierra Club.

As for the next four years, the topic of such meetings doesn't figure to be pertinent to the agency's mission.

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