EPA’s budget has been devastated for decades: Here’s the math

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When Donald Trump rolled out his budget, which cut the Environmental Protection Agency by more than any other department, he said his goal was to “shrink the bloated federal bureaucracy.” He clearly meant to leave the impression that EPA had gotten too big and costly.

But the facts tell a very different story.

Far from growing too big, EPA’s budget has been devastated over the last four decades. Other than a bump in the early Obama administration, funding for the agency has been in a long downward spiral.

{mosads}In fact, contrary to Trump’s implication, EPA’s funding in real dollars is less than half of what it was in the late 1970s. Here’s the math:


In 1979, the agency’s budget was $5.4 billion. In 2017, its funding was $8.2 billion. But adjust that for inflation — so you can actually compare what EPA had to spend on enforcement, state and local support, science and all its other responsibilities — and the 2017 budget was really worth just $2.4 billion in 1979 dollars.

This dramatic drop occurred even as our population increased by one hundred million people and our economy doubled in size. That means that with many more people and businesses, the agency has far fewer resources to protect clean air and water, deal with toxic waste and chemicals, and protect our health.

Not only that, Congress has repeatedly added to EPA’s responsibilities. Since 1979 there are at least a dozen major new (and necessary) laws for the agency to enforce — including Superfund to clean up toxic waste, Oil Pollution Act, Food Quality Protection Act, as well as updates to laws on safe drinking water and clean water. All as the agency’s funding dropped 55 percent in real dollars.

These cuts are not merely the result of general reductions in government. Over the same period — 1979 to 2017 — the average federal agency’s budget has increased by 26 percent. (Not as much as the 43 percent increase in our population, but an increase nonetheless.)

Overall, 18 agencies, departments, or branches of government saw real increases. The Executive Office of the President grew by 43 percent, the Department of Commerce grew by 29 percent, and the Department of Justice grew by 117 percent. They do important work, but it provides a contrast with EPA’s cuts.

The fact that EPA has managed to make our environment dramatically cleaner, support states in providing clean drinking water, and saved a hundred thousand lives year by reducing air pollution is remarkable. They’ve done it by implementing effective safeguards, holding polluters accountable, and working closely with states and business to find the best way to protect human health.

The idea that the Trump administration now wants to reduce the agency’s budget another 30 percent — and the House and Senate are also considering serious cuts — is reckless. Reducing funding for clean air monitors, state anti-pollution programs, and toxic waste clean-up would be a disaster. There are already fewer than the legally required 200 enforcement agents for the entire country.

All of this would lead directly to more smog and asthma attacks, more toxic chemicals and cancer in our lives, and more climate pollution threatening our future.

The president’s campaign rhetoric aside, EPA has in fact pushed for greater efficiency in environmental protection. The Clean Power Plan, now withdrawn by the Trump administration, emphasized finding the lowest cost ways to reduce pollution. And EPA has used innovative market-based approaches to protect human health in ways that promote economic growth.

The real reason the Trump administration wants to reduce the agency’s budget is to hobble EPA’s ability to enforce our environmental laws. Fewer resources means that the least responsible polluters will have little to fear from EPA. The record, rhetoric, and history of both Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt lead to no other conclusion.

We can’t let our children’s health or future fall victim to this dangerous approach. The administration needs to tell the American people the truth — the EPA’s budget has been devastated for decades. It’s time to fully fund the agency that protects our health.

Keith Gaby is senior communications director (climate, health and political affairs) at Environmental Defense Fund.

Tags Donald Trump Environment environmental laws EPA Keith Gaby Pollution

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