|Enforcement would end under Trump plan — former EPA chief|
Mike Soraghan, E&E News reporter
The Trump administration budget would end environmental enforcement, not just severely restrict it, says the former U.S. EPA enforcement chief under President Obama.
"This would not cut enforcement by 25 percent," said Cynthia Giles, the former assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance. "It would stop it altogether."
There would still be enforcement personnel, she said. But they wouldn't be able to do anything. The money for travel, for equipment, for hiring experts would be wiped out.
In budget parlance, those things are paid for from "extramural" accounts. In the enforcement branch of EPA, called the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA), that's only 5 percent of the budget.
If Congress agreed to President Trump's cuts, Giles said, EPA couldn't lay people off fast enough to avoid zeroing out the extramural budget. So there wouldn't be enough money for the remaining people to do anything (Energywire, March 17).
Congress is unlikely to agree to the severe cuts Trump has proposed. But Giles said anything like the 24 percent cut proposed by the administration would have a "similar devastating effect."
Trump's budget blueprint explains the cuts by saying years of environmental protections have been successful and says state governments can enforce many environmental laws.
But some influential administration allies say EPA has been doing too much enforcement and want to see less of it.
A Heritage Foundation spending proposal seen as having influence with the Trump team recommends a 30 percent cut in the civil enforcement budget because "EPA engages in unnecessary and excessive legal actions" (Greenwire, Jan. 27).
"A reduction in funding should impose an element of discipline to force the agency to be more careful about inviting legal challenges to regulatory and enforcement activities," the Heritage proposal states.
The Heritage proposal also calls for sharp cuts to the Justice Department division that goes to court for EPA. The authors point blame at the office for pursuing "sue and settle" policies.
The Trump blueprint cuts funding for OECA from $548 million to $419 million. The administration is expected to issue a more detailed spending plan in May.
OECA staff declined by 15 percent during the Obama years, and its size had been shrinking since before Obama took office. The agency currently has about 2,880 positions.
The extramural budget for enforcement has also been shrinking. Payroll is a larger portion of the OECA budget than for other branches, Giles said. Payroll is one of the hardest and slowest aspects to cut.
Giles, who joined the Obama administration in 2009 and served until its last day, said her budget shrank because of the deep recession the country suffered in 2008. But with that recession over, Giles says the time for cuts is over, too.
She also said that settlements negotiated from EPA enforcement actions — such as Volkswagen AG and the BP PLC spill — have resulted in money flowing to states and communities.
"Billions of dollars are going to states and communities because of these settlements," she said.
Posted on Monday, March 20, 2017 (Archive on Monday, April 10, 2017)
Posted by Jym St. Pierre Contributed by Jym St. Pierre