Voluntary EPA Programs Get Ax in Budget Plan as Climate Work Halts

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By Andrew Childers

Voluntary EPA programs that encourage businesses to improve energy efficiency and curb greenhouse gas emissions would get the ax from a Trump administration that has already pledged to roll back climate change regulations.

The Trump administration’s fiscal year 2018 budget proposal would slash $336 million from the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate work compared to estimated funding levels for 2017, including an 85 percent cut to programs to track and voluntarily reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The steep cut to the EPA’s greenhouse gas reporting programs, which collect annual emissions data from nearly 8,000 industrial facilities across 41 sectors of the economy, is expected to come from eliminating 15 voluntary initiatives such as Energy Star, methane reduction efforts for the oil and gas sector, and the Green Power Partnership, which encourages the use of renewable energy.

Eliminating those programs is a signal that the Trump EPA is not content just to undo the climate change regulations undertaken by the Obama administration, but will chip away at other initiatives as well, further sidelining efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt have vowed to downplay the agency’s climate change work, instead focusing on priorities such as cleaning up Superfund sites.

“The cuts to the voluntary programs are surprising because these are really programs in place to support the private sector in taking on cost effective, non-regulatory improvements to the environment that they can implement on their own,” Ali Zaidi, senior adviser at Morrison & Foerster LLP in Washington, D.C., and a former senior member of the Office of Management and Budget under President Barack Obama, told Bloomberg BNA. “They need technical support from the federal government in terms of modeling, monitoring, verification, and best practices.”

Reducing those programs is part of the Trump administration’s “commitment to return EPA to its core work.” the agency said in a congressional justification for its budget proposal.

No Signals to Businesses

“The clear message here seems to be the federal government is getting out of that business,” William Sloan, a partner in Venable LLP’s environmental practice in San Francisco, told Bloomberg BNA. “They don’t want to send any kind of message with what the business community should be doing.”

Republican administrations historically have favored voluntary programs as an alternative to regulation, David Doniger, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Climate and Clean Air Program, told Bloomberg BNA. The programs also have proven to be popular with industries as an opportunity to tout their environmental credentials.

“These are very popular programs,” Doniger said. “They’ve transformed markets. They’ve saved consumers billions of dollars. They’ve engaged companies in non-regulatory ways that have helped them save enormous amounts of money.”

Climate Programs Targeted

The EPA in the FY 2018 budget proposal released May 23 faces $336 million in cuts to its climate work, compared to estimated funding levels for 2017. The Office of Management and Budget compared its FY 2018 proposal to estimated funding based on the continuing resolution for 2017 rather than the recently passed omnibus funding levels for that year.

The $336 million in cuts to the EPA’s air pollution and climate work include:

  •  $161 million reduction—a 34 percent cut from 2017 levels—to environmental programs and management,
  •  $114 million less for science and technology programs, a 46 percent reduction, and
  •  $60 million in cuts to aid to states and tribes—a nearly 18 percent cut from 2017 levels.

International Climate Aid Eliminated

Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget plan also maintains his pledge to zero out billions in international climate aid.

The proposal would eliminate a total of $1.59 billion for the United Nations Green Climate Fund, the Global Climate Change Initiative, and other international climate programs.

Zeroing out the Green Climate Fund would mean the U.S. would fall well short of the amount Obama pledged in 2014 toward the fund—$3 billion over four years—which helps developing nations adapt to climate impacts and pursue low-carbon development. Obama used the Global Climate Change Initiative to make sure climate issues were being addressed in assistance funneled through multiple foreign assistance agencies.

—With assistance from Dean Scott in Washington.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Childers in Washington at AChilders@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Connolly at PConnolly@bna.com

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