Water Infrastructure Among Few EPA Winners in Trump Budget Plan (1)

By Dean Scott

Water infrastructure funding would be essentially shielded from the deep cuts the Trump administration is seeking in Environmental Protection Agency funding in fiscal 2019, even as the president seeks to eliminate or greatly reduce regional water quality programs.

The president’s budget request released Feb. 12 would provide $6.15 billion to the EPA for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, a reduction of about 25 percent from the fiscal 2017 enacted levels. A proposed cut that deep is expected to encounter resistance from Senate Democrats and even some Republicans.

At the same time, the proposed budget would maintain funding levels for EPA-funded water infrastructure projects. Overall, the EPA’s two largest water funds, which provide money to states for infrastructure loans, would receive almost $2.3 billion in fiscal 2019.

This $2.3 billion allocation is separate from the $20 billion proposed to go to EPA in the president’s infrastructure proposal, which was also released Feb. 12. The $20 billion in the infrastructure plan would be used as matching funds meant to spur states, cities, and private companies to move forward on projects.

Before Congress last week reached a two-year budget deal, which Trump signed Feb. 9, the administration planned to cut more than $380 million from the infrastructure fund that goes toward wastewater projects. That would have been a more than 27 percent reduction from fiscal 2017, the last year for which detailed full-year budget figures exist.

The administration instead kept funding for the wastewater program and for the EPA’s drinking water infrastructure program after the budget deal was reached.

Great Lakes, Chesapeake Cleanups Cut

But funding for most regional water quality programs, in which the EPA supports cooperative efforts by states, would take a big hit under the Trump administration’s fiscal 2019 request. It is seeking to eliminate EPA support for all such regional programs, with the exception of the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes. Those two programs would be cut to 90 percent below the fiscal 2017 enacted levels.

The Chesapeake Bay regional cleanup effort would receive $7.3 million in fiscal 2019, down from the fiscal 2017 level of $73 million level, and the Great Lakes regional effort would receive $30 million, down from $300 million in fiscal 2017. The Trump administration proposed to eliminate those programs as well in its 2018 budget request, but Congress kept the funding.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) vowed to fight to restore that funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

“This is outrageous,” Stabenow said in a Feb. 12 statement. “People across Michigan spoke out and took action last year to stop these cuts and I know they’ll do so again.”

State water pollution programs also would get less funding under the Trump administration’s budget plan. The White House is proposing $153 million for those EPA-funded programs, 33 percent below the enacted fiscal 2017 levels.

State Grant Cuts Sought

Trump also took aim once again at funding for state grants to reduce nonpoint source pollution, which comes from diffuse sources such as land runoff. His EPA budget proposal would eliminate funding for them in fiscal 2019.

The agency “will continue to coordinate with the United States Department of Agriculture to target funding where appropriate to address nonpoint sources,” the administration said in its EPA budget request.

The White House also is proposing to eliminate funding for beach protection, contending that local governments have acquired expertise and procedures to carry out this program without federal funding and technical assistance.

Whether the EPA will actually see an overall cut in those programs or its overall fiscal 2019 budget will depend in part on how Congress allocates increased spending it approved as part of a two-year budget deal that boosted both domestic and defense spending. The White House included an addendum in its budget plan released Feb. 12 to reflect that infusion of funds.

The EPA addendum would provide a boost of $724 million to the EPA, which is included in the $6.15 billion the White House requested in total. The White House proposed to use the additional funding for Superfund sites and EPA-funded state and tribal grants for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure projects.

Fees Boost Chemical Program

The EPA’s chemicals program would see an increase in funding under the budget request, thanks to expected fees from the chemical industry.

The EPA requested $58.6 million for the chemicals program, which would represent an 8.8 percent cut from fiscal 2017 enacted levels. However, the EPA anticipates it would more than make up that difference through fees from chemical manufacturers, importers, and processors.

Updates to the nation’s chemicals law authorized those fees to help defray agency costs. The EPA recently proposed a fee rule that presumes the agency would collect about $20 million annually.

—With assistance from David Schultz, Amena H. Saiyid, and Pat Rizzuto