Trump Proposes EPA Cuts

President's Proposed EPA Budget Slashes Enforcement Funding, Makes Pesticide Programs Fee-Based

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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Proposed cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency budget could hit agriculture. (Photo by Nick Scalise)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Though the appetite for scaling back the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's influence in the countryside may be palpable, potential budget cuts to the agency may come in some areas critical to agriculture, according to an internal EPA memorandum from the agency's acting chief financial officer.

President Donald Trump released a proposed budget in recent months, detailing a number of cuts to a variety of federal agencies. That includes an overall estimated 31% cut at EPA. The overall proposed budget would cut EPA funding from about $8.2 billion to $5.7 billion, while trimming the agency's workforce by about 21%.

EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said in an email to DTN the agency is looking for ways to get more bang for the buck from the budget.

"EPA is evaluating different approaches to implementing the president's budget that would allow us to effectively serve the taxpayers and protect the environment," she said.

"While many in Washington insist on greater spending, EPA is focused on greater value and results. The EPA will partner with the states to ensure a thoughtful approach is used to maximize every dollar to protect our air, land, and water."

A March 21, 2017, 64-page memo, http://bit.ly/…, from EPA's Acting Chief Financial Officer David A. Bloom to EPA's acting general counsel, acting assistant administrators, inspector general, chief of staff and acting regional administrators, details the proposed cuts.

While the cuts would be steep, presidential proposed budgets are just a wish list subject to the legislative process.

Several agency pesticide programs that deal with human risk and the environment would be eliminated or changed to rely on increased fee collections from the industry to fund the programs, according to the memo. The proposed budget also would eliminate a number of grant programs to states to help states deal with pesticide enforcement.

Categorical grants for pesticides enforcement would take a $7 million reduction from EPA's 2016 enacted budget of $18 million. Pesticides program implementation categorical grants would be reduced from about $12.7 million to around $8.9 million.

In a March 22, 2017, critique by the Environmental Protection Network, an organization of former EPA employees and other government officials, the group said cuts to pesticide programs could make it difficult for farmers on a number of fronts. See the organization's full analysis here: http://bit.ly/…

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Pesticides are governed by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. The act requires all pesticide products to be registered by EPA. The agency establishes maximum allowable amounts of pesticide residue permitted on food. EPA's authority to set tolerances is provided by the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act.

Proposed cuts "would likely contribute to delays in licensing of new pesticides into the marketplace and in review and setting of tolerance levels for pesticides used on foods," the EPN said in its analysis.

"Steeper cuts under pesticides research and development could negatively impact important research underway to keep abreast of the latest science related to assessing the risk of pesticides to human health and the environment," the group said.

"Science advances relentlessly over time. The 1996 Food Quality Protection Act included a provision that all pesticides must be reevaluated on a staggered, but regular, basis (every 15 years) in a process called registration review.

"Additionally, emerging technologies, such as genetically modified crops and nanotechnology are being introduced into our environment without prior evaluation of the potential impact to human health and the environment. EPA has an obligation under existing laws to study and evaluate the risk and impacts of these new technologies."

The group said the proposed cuts "would likely reduce efforts to enforce EPA's agricultural worker protection standard, which is aimed at reducing the risk of pesticide poisoning and injury among agricultural workers and pesticide handlers."

The endocrine disruptors screening program also would be eliminated. The program is designed to identify and control chemicals that are endocrine system disruptors.

"There has been growing concern among scientists and the public about certain chemicals that may harm the endocrine system, a complex system of glands that produces hormones," the group said.

"Under the screening program, the EPA has introduced groundbreaking new technologies, alternative techniques that use computational toxicology to predict endocrine effects using computer models, which will enable the agency to move from screening dozens of chemicals per year to up to 1,000 per year, while moving away from animal testing."

ENFORCEMENT CUTS

In recent weeks, the president signed an executive order essentially wiping out the Clean Power Plan. The proposed EPA budget essentially eliminates all funding for climate change initiatives.

In addition, the president's budget would cut about $9.4 million from EPA enforcement activities. That includes cuts to civil and criminal enforcement, and compliance monitoring.

One of the areas that could be affected by such cuts is the Renewable Fuel Standard. In particular, the cuts could affect EPA's ability to monitor the Renewable Identification Numbers, or RIN, program for fraud. RIN is used by obligated parties to comply with the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Grants for wetlands program development would be cut from about $14.7 million to about $10.2 million. Additionally, the budget calls for a 10% cut in water quality programs to protect surface waters.

About $165 million in non-point-source pollution grants directed toward water quality would be eliminated. Many agriculture activities are considered to be non-point sources.

Programs also on the chopping block are water quality research and support grants, state and local air quality management grants, a $66.7 million program for the Chesapeake Bay, and other programs dealing with water quality in the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Champlain and Great Lakes restoration.

The budget includes a slight increase in state revolving funds for building clean water and drinking water infrastructure, at about $2.3 billion.

"The agency's work will center on our core legal requirements," Bloom wrote, "federal-only and national efforts, providing support to states in implementing environmental laws, and easing regulatory burden. In line with this approach, many voluntary programs are eliminated. Reductions to other work will require priority-setting across ongoing activities. Notably, fee-based funding is encouraged.

"These resource levels require us to think about the work we do and how we do it, the way we reorganized and the geographic location and spaces we occupy. The agency will continue to seek opportunities to reduce further our facility footprint and/or implement planned and pending moves in an expedited and cost-effective manner."

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

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Todd Neeley