- President Trump's newly-released FY18 budget proposal reaffirms previous plans to cut funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by 31% to $5.65 billion. Part of this plan would include staffing reductions and the agency has reportedly set aside $12 million for buyouts and early retirements, as reported by The Washington Post.
- This proposal includes deep cuts to Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) programs. Funding for technical assistance to tribes and corrective action for contaminated sites would be reduced. Funding and staff for RCRA Waste Minimization and Recycling programs would be cut entirely. According to the EPA's budget justification, "State and local entities or industry groups may elect to continue work to reuse and recycle materials...The EPA will focus on core environmental work."
- An EPA press release emphasized the agency's new focus on its "core statutory mission of providing Americans with clean air, land, and water." Funding for water infrastructure, Superfund remediation, brownfield clean-ups and toxic chemical assessment was also highlighted.
Trump's proposed EPA cuts are the steepest of any agency in the budget and reflect the stark shift in environmental priorities between administrations. Aside from emphasizing a "back to basics" agenda for reducing perceived regulatory burdens, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has also been actively discussing ways to speed up contaminated site clean-ups such as the West Lake Landfill in Missouri. This week, his office announced the creation of a Superfund task force to provide recommendations on expediting such work. The proposed FY18 budget includes cuts to Superfund enforcement as well, including the elimination of EPA's Environmental Justice program.
Adoption of this exact budget is unlikely and many elected officials have been quick to denounce it for multiple reasons. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon tweeted a picture of the budget book in a recycling bin to reflect his opinion. Proposed cuts to other research, enforcement and grant assistance categories have also drawn pushback from lawmakers and representatives of the various communities that currently utilize this funding. Whether any of the waste industry's larger companies or associations will speak out about the domestic manufacturing and job creation potential created by recycling remains to be seen. The administration's regulatory rethink has benefited them in at least one way, with an administrative stay of Obama-era landfill rules, but cuts to recycling research and grants may be harder to square with their own stated missions.
In a practical sense, the complete elimination of this federal funding would shift more financial burden to state and local governments. Yet as seen by efforts to eliminate a non-regulatory recycling agency in North Carolina and ongoing budget cuts in other areas, some of these states may not be equipped to handle all of this work. This could leave the work of pursuing EPA priorities such as reducing food waste 50% by 2030 to nonprofits, municipalities or the private sector. Many of the ideas around sustainable materials management that were initially championed by EPA officials have now become common goals for municipalities — and talking points for the companies that serve them — and could fall off the federal priority list at a time when some argue a national conversation is needed more than ever.