The Environmental Protection Agency fiscal 2019 budget request pairs budget cuts with White House priorities under President Trump's infrastructure blueprint.
It's not just about budget cuts in the proposal released by the EPA Monday, although there are plenty of those. The budget proposal, which is accompanied by a four-year EPA strategic vision document, dovetails with the administration's themes of deregulation and infrastructure development.
The budget proposal, at $6.1 billion, is slightly more giving than Trump's fiscal 2018 budget request of $5.6 billion, but not by much. The proposals both have sizable 25 percent and 31 percent spending cuts to the EPA, respectively, compared to Obama-era fiscal 2017 spending levels.
But more importantly, the agency's fiscal 2019 budget appears to be closely tied to Trump's plans for infrastructure development, while cutting out environmental regulations and program reviews that slow down development.
Big changes would come from EPA's work to eliminate requirements under the Clean Air Act and other statutory programs under the president’s “One Agency, One Permit” concept.
The concept would designate "a lead federal agency" to meet a two-year deadline of issuing a single record of decision for a major project.
"Duplicative environmental reviews and processes would be eliminated in favor of more cooperation and earlier engagement by all relevant agencies in order to achieve positive environmental outcomes, regulatory certainty, and public transparency," according to the agency.
Some of the specific changes would include amending a Clean Air Act section "to eliminate the requirement for EPA to review and publicly comment on other agencies’ Environmental Impact Statements" to expedite reviews.
The EPA also would seek to amend Clean Water Act requirements "to eliminate EPA’s ability to veto" an Army Corps infrastructure project.
The fiscal 2019 budget also targets more than $598 million in programs that "create unnecessary redundancies or those that have served their purpose and accomplished their mission."
It also moves forward on shifting agency operations under a presidential executive order for developing a comprehensive plan for reorganizing the executive branch, according to an EPA summary. "The plan includes a series of projects focused on managing EPA programs more effectively and delivering results, including streamlining EPA’s permit review process, deploying a lean management system, and reducing unnecessary reporting burdens on the regulated community," the agency said.
The first four-year EPA Strategic Plan for fiscal 2018-2022 adheres to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's "Back to Basics" campaign, which seeks to restore the agency's "core mission," while restoring power to states through "cooperative federalism" and leading the agency through improved processes and adherence to the law.
Many of those points were reiterated by Pruitt at a meeting at the White House Monday to discuss Trump's infrastructure plan. "Through regulatory reforms and targeted investments, EPA will play a leading role in this effort,” he said before the meeting.
That effort will begin by improving the nation's drinking water infrastructure by amending the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act. Changing those laws would be "a way to promote private investment and improved management of water infrastructure through expanded use of State Revolving Loan Funds," the agency said.
The infrastructure plan also calls for the EPA to increase its Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act funding authorizations to use water infrastructure funds to include certain Superfund, brownfields and Army Corps flood projects.
Part of the EPA's plan to change the definition of "navigable waters" under the Obama administration's Waters of the U.S. rule is also part of the Trump infrastructure plan.
The definition change is part of the EPA's effort to repeal the WOTUS rule, which has been criticized for expanding EPA's jurisdiction to everything from drainage ditches and watering holes, to streams, creeks, and rivers. It has been broadly criticized by states, industry, farmers, and ranchers as a prime example of federal overreach.
Repealing the WOTUS rule and redefining EPA's jurisdiction is key to meeting one of Trump's first executive orders, directing EPA's review and move to repeal the regulation.