President Trump has proposed a dramatic cut in funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, the new EPA Administrator has suggested rollbacks in regulations, and there are even proposals to abolish the Agency entirely. Regardless of what eventually happens, changes are afoot, and they are likely to be significant.
At the outset, it’s probably worth noting that, although there have been calls for the abolition of EPA, including at least one recently filed bill in the U.S. House that would do just that and shift responsibilities to other agencies (Pensacola News Journal), that appears to be well outside the mainstream of acceptable action. This appears true even in the deeply conservative Florida panhandle area the bill’s sponsor represents. Instead, any changes at EPA are much more likely to involve a reduction in funding coupled with changes in internal practices.
Yesterday President Trump outlined his first budget proposal. It includes reducing EPA’s funding by approximately 24%, from the current level of $8.1 billion to a little over $6.1 billion. (Taking a Hatchet to EPA). Although reaction was mixed regarding this aspect of the President’s budget proposal, there has been a growing dissatisfaction with significant EPA rulemakings and policies. (Christian Science Monitor – Why the EPA Faces Big Cuts). Thus, a variety of interest groups were successful in getting Trump to issue an Executive Order directing EPA to reconsider the controversial “Waters of the U.S.” regulation. (Reuters – USA Waters). Similarly, the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan is almost certain to be withdrawn or substantially revised. Other recent rules are certainly going to get scrutiny by Congress using the provisions of the Congressional Review Act.
The President’s budget proposals and executive orders, and potential Congressional actions aside, the new EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, has made clear that he will attempt to take the Agency in a different direction. (The Guardian; The Hill – Pruitt Calls for Aggressive Rollbacks). Internally, Pruitt will certainly move to change EPA philosophy with respect particularly to the scope of the Agency’s authority and discretion. As Oklahoma’s Attorney General, Pruitt regularly argued that the Agency overstepped its authority and acted outside its statutory mandates and authorizations with many of its regulations including, but not limited to, the Clean Power Plan. He will move to reset Agency policies to be more in line with his views. And that will certainly encourage individual industry groups who have particular concerns about particular regulations and policies affecting their individual industries. (Automakers Ask EPA Head to Withdraw Obama Decision on Emissions).
Changing EPA’s internal philosophy is one approach to concerns raised by many. If Pruitt is consistent with his positions regarding the scope and limitations of statutory authority, this would not necessarily change EPA’s core mission, which is based on statutory provisions regulating air, water, and waste management. Instead, it may have more effect on the Agency’s internal policy choices and decisions associated with developing and implementing those regulatory programs. On the other hand, any budget cuts, if not carefully done, have the potential to affect the enforcement budgets of individual states which administer programs enforcing these core regulatory activities in EPA’s stead under authorization agreements between the individual States and the Agency. Indeed, many advocates of reform at EPA essentially argue that primary compliance and enforcement activities ought to be done at the State level. While this may be capable of being accomplished even with some reduction in EPA’s budget, if the budgets for State implementation and enforcement are reduced in any significant way, the overall impact is likely to be a significant change in enforcement activities around the nation.