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The White House has proposed deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget that would reduce the agency’s staff by one-fifth in the first year and eliminate dozens of programs, according to details of a plan reviewed by The Washington Post.

While administration officials had already indicated that they intended to increase defense spending at the expense of other discretionary funding, the plan spells out exactly how this new approach will affect long-standing federal programs that have a direct impact on Americans’ everyday lives.

“The administration’s 2018 budget blueprint will prioritize rebuilding the military and making critical investments in the nation’s security, ” the document says. “It will also identify the savings and efficiencies needed to keep the nation on a responsible fiscal path.”

The funding level proposed, which the document says “highlights the trade-offs and choices inherent in pursuing these goals, ” could have a significant impact on the agency. Its annual budget would drop from $8.2 billion a year to $6.1 billion. And because much of that funding already goes to states and localities in the form of grants, such cuts could have an even greater effect on the EPA’s core functions.

Though President Trump professes to care strongly about clean air and clean water, almost no other federal department or agency is as much in the crosshairs at the moment. As a candidate, he vowed to get rid of the EPA “in almost every form, ” leaving only “little tidbits” intact. The man he chose to lead the agency, former Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt, sued it more than a dozen times in recent years, challenging its legal authority to regulate such things as mercury pollution, smog and carbon emissions from power plants.

The White House has proposed deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency's budget that would reduce the agency's staff by one-fifth in the first year and eliminate dozens of programs, according to details of a plan reviewed by The Washington Post. (Reuters)

The plan reflects those past sentiments. As proposed, the EPA’s staff would be slashed from its current level of 15, 000 to 12, 000. Grants to states, as well as its air and water programs, would be cut by 30 percent. The massive Chesapeake Bay cleanup project would receive only $5 million in the next fiscal year, down from its current $73 million.

In addition, 38 separate programs would be eliminated entirely. Grants to clean up brownfields, or abandoned industrial sites, would be gone. Also zeroed out: the radon program, climate change initiatives and funding for Alaskan native villages.

The agency’s Office of Research and Development could lose up to 42 percent of its budget, according to an individual apprised of the administration’s plans. And the document eliminates funding altogether for the office’s “contribution to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, ” a climate initiative that President George H.W. Bush launched in 1989.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 25 in Oxon Hill, Md. (The Washington Post)

The staffing reductions, which could be accomplished through a buyout offer as well as layoffs, were among several changes to which the EPA staff was asked to react by the close of business Wednesday. Multiple individuals briefed on the plan confirmed the request by the Office of Management and Budget, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The document acknowledges that the cuts “will create many challenges” but suggests that “by looking ahead and focusing on clean water, clean air and other core responsibilities, rather than activities that are not required by law, EPA will be able to effectively achieve its mission.”

Any cuts would have to be codified through the congressional appropriations process and would probably face resistance from some lawmakers. Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), a former chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on interior, environment and related agencies, said he did not think Congress would approve such a steep drop in funding.

“There’s not that much in the EPA, for crying out loud, ” he said, noting that Republicans had already reduced the agency’s budget dramatically in recent years.

Jennifer Hing, a spokeswoman for the House Appropriations Committee, declined to comment Wednesday on the cuts targeted but said in an email that the panel “will carefully look at the budget proposal once it is sent to Congress.”

The EPA also would not comment on the budget proposal. But its new administrator cautioned this week that the particulars of the budget remain in flux.

“I am concerned about the grants that have been targeted, especially around water infrastructure, and those very important state revolving funds, ” Pruitt told the publication E&E News after Trump’s address to Congress on Tuesday. He said he already had spoken with OMB Director Mick Mulvaney about the agency’s funding.

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