Energy & Environment

Week ahead: EPA braces for Trump budget

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The Trump White House is due to release its 2018 budget proposal on Tuesday, a document expected to contain deep cuts for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other programs.

The EPA saw one of the largest cuts in the White House’s “skinny budget” in March, a precursor to the formal proposal that Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney says is coming out on Tuesday.

While the White House could have changed its budget targets between then and now, the March proposal hints at the type of cuts the EPA and other agencies should expect to see on Tuesday.

Under the March proposal, the EPA was due to absorb a 31 percent funding cut. If enacted, that plan would discontinue funding for programming, research and diplomatic efforts related to climate change, end more than 50 EPA programs and cut 3,200 of the agency’s 15,000 jobs.

{mosads}Trump’s budget proposal is just that: a proposal. Congress will have a say over federal spending, and while deep EPA spending cuts have divided some Republicans, the party has looked to cut the EPA’s budget for years, and is likely to try doing so again this year.

The agency is also undergoing internal restructuring, with officials this week announcing a $12 million buyout program for the agency’s workforce.

The EPA was among the departments hardest-hit by the March budget blueprint, but others were facing cuts as well. The Interior Department’s funding would be slashed by 12 percent under that plan, with officials proposing to cut the Department of Energy’s budget by $1.7 billion, or 5.6 percent cut.

Mulvaney and other Trump officials will roll out the budget proposal on Tuesday, waving the starting flag for the months-long fight over federal spending. Congress will, in theory, vet the proposal and write their funding bills, though that process is likely to be a murky one: GOP infighting in the House, and Democrats’ ability to block spending bills in the Senate have already raised the odds for a major spending showdown this session in the fall.

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for three key Trump nominations on Thursday.

Two of those nominees are Trump’s long-awaited picks for open spots on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC): Neil Chatterjee, the top energy adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and Robert Powelson, a public utility commissioner in Pennsylvania.

Energy industry watchers expect Trump’s two FERC nominees to be fairly uncontroversial, given their backgrounds and senators’ familiarity with them.

But Democrats have indicated they are likely to oppose putting the two on the board at least until Trump nominates a Democrat to one of the commission’s other vacancies. Environmental activists opposed to FERC have already pushed senators not to put new members on the commission, which they consider a rubber stamp for the energy industry.

Chatterjee and Powelson will testify alongside Dan Brouillette, Trump’s pick to be the Energy Department’s deputy secretary. Brouillette served at DOE from 2001 to 2003 and was an energy and mineral regulator in Louisiana from 2013 to 2016.

Two committees will hold hearings on EPA issues on Tuesday. A Senate Environment and Public Works Committee panel will meet to consider two bills related to agency ozone regulations, and a House Science subcommittee will hear testimony on the role of states in agency rulemaking.

The House Rules Committee on Monday will also take up the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act, introduced by Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio). A floor vote could be coming later in the week.

The bill would mend the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA) to ease permits for the use of some pesticides.

The bill has passed the House before, including last year, when Republicans retooled it as a measure to help fight the spread of the Zika virus.

Off Capitol Hill, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is the featured speaker at a Faegre Baker Daniels energy and environment symposium on Wednesday.  


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