President Donald Trump’s proposed budget takes aim at a number of environmental programs across several agencies, reducing money used to enforce air and water rules and eliminating funding for Long Island Sound and coastal research programs.
The administration said the proposals are attempts to eliminate funding to nonstatutory programs and shift costs to local governments better able to handle regional issues while allowing the federal government to focus nationally. Trump has also talked about the need to eliminate unnecessary environmental regulation.
But the spending plan, which has only passed one house of Congress, has drawn sharp criticism from environmental advocates and officials in New York.
The headline for environmentalists is a proposed 31.4 percent reduction for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which, if approved, will see its budget go from $8.2 billion this year to $5.7 billion in fiscal year 2018, which begins in October. The agency’s Superfund program alone, which oversees cleanup of hazardous waste sites, will lose $330 million and staffing will be reduced by nearly 600 full-time equivalent jobs.
“The proposed numbers coming out of Washington are very disturbing,” said Commissioner Basil Seggos of the state Department of Environmental Conservation on Friday.
Local and national Democrats, as well as some members of the president’s own party, say they will push back.
“Clean water is so important to Long Island and clean air is so important to our children’s lungs that we’re going to fight these cuts,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), said in a statement to Newsday.
Seggos said New York State has an ambitious environmental agenda and will not let programs be undercut. “I think it’s important for us to speak up now or frankly it could be devastating,” he said.
Here’s a look at some of the cuts and their local impacts:
Clean air and water enforcement and protection
DEC has the delegated authority to implement and enforce federal laws like the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, and the state annually gets about $188 million in EPA grants to support those programs.
While the proposed budget reduced EPA’s overall allocation by nearly a third, the cuts to the state grants program is 55 percent, going from $1.079 billion to $597 million, according to White House budget documents.
“At this stage we have an alarming proposal,” Seggos said. “There is a significant chunk of DECs fieldwork that is funded in part by federal dollars.”
White House budget documents said the proposed cuts were a way to reduce funding to programs outside of EPA’s statutory duties. “States may be able to adjust to reduced funding levels by reducing or eliminating additional activities not required under federal law, prioritizing programs, and seeking other funding sources including fees,” the administration said.
Sea grant and estuary programs
The proposed budget for the Department of Commerce eliminates National Oceanic and Atmospheric grants and education allocations, wiping out $262 million in funding.
That includes money that now goes to the New York Sea Grant, Long Island Sound, Peconic Estuary and New York-New Jersey Harbor and Estuary programs.
Nationally, the federal government awards $73 million to sea grant programs in 33 states focused on research, education and outreach in coastal communities.
New York Sea Grant, which funds research at colleges and universities and works with local communities on coastal issues, received $2.7 million this fiscal year. Much of that money is supplemented with matching grants.
“Losing the federal award entirely would basically mean we would have to shut our doors,” Sea Grant director William Wise said.
The Long Island Sound program works to improve water quality in the body of water that separates New York and Connecticut. Cuts would eliminate $8 million in funding that is spent on improving water quality, reducing pollution and restoring tidal wetlands in the 1,320-square-mile estuary.
More than 24 million people live within 50 miles of the Sound.
“It blows up the environmental progress made,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “It will set us back.”
The proposed budget also cuts the National Park Service funding by $183 million and reduces staffing by 1,242 full-time equivalent positions.
For Fire Island National Seashore, that means a possible reduction of $348,000. At Sagamore Hill National Historic Site in Oyster Bay, the allocation would be reduced by $108,000, according to park service budget documents.