More than perhaps anything else he does, a president's budget proposal tells us what he thinks is important.
By that measure, President Trump's just proposed massive budget cuts for the EPA tell us that Trump does not value the EPA mission of ensuring clean air and water for Americans, and in fact that he believes we have been too harsh on the corporate polluters whose behavior deprives us of those things. Stated bluntly, the President is trying to disband the environmental police. Polluters should be licking their chops.
It is impossible to reach any other conclusion when we review what Trump proposes to do to the EPA's funding:
- Overall budget cut of $2.6 billion, or 31% of the agency's total budget.
- That's the largest percentage cut for any government agency.
- It would eliminate 3,200 EPA jobs.....that's more than 20% of the EPA's total workforce, again, the largest for any government agency.
- EPA funding would be at its lowest level in 40 years.
- Slashes $330 million from funding to clean up "Superfund" sites-which are, by definition, the most dangerously contaminated sites in the country.
- Cuts 31% of the budget of the EPA's "enforcement" division, which fines companies for polluting.
Let's be clear about who these cuts would hurt the most: it is the poor, and racial minorities, typically, African Americans and Latinos. Why? Because, disproportionately, they are the ones who live in the country's most contaminated cities and neighborhoods--across the street or down the road from the Superfund sites. They can't afford to live anywhere else. They are also the ones who are least able to fight back; they don't have access to lawyers and lobbyists who would advocate for them, to get the waste dumps and contaminated water cleaned up. And, worst of all, they are the most vulnerable to the ravages of pollution: their communities have the greatest numbers of children, who are the ones whose bodies are least able to process the toxins that daily infiltrate their air and water, and so are most susceptible to the cancers and respiratory diseases that the toxins invite. This problem is compounded, of course, by the fact that these poor communities tend to not have access to adequate health care and other means to protect themselves against pollution.
The meanness and cynicism of the President's budget is perhaps best captured in this statistic: while he wants to cut the EPA's "clean air and water" program funding by $2.6 billion, he has proposed to spend almost exactly the same amount--$2.8 billion-to build a wall on the Mexican border. He's taking money from the EPA to build the wall. What does that say about what he thinks is important? Keeping Mexican children out of the country is more important than keeping them safe after they've gotten here? Giving polluters free reign over the environment is more important than Americans' health?
There is no answer that could make us feel good about what the President is doing here.
If there's a silver lining to Trump's EPA budget it's that he has so weakened himself with his erratic behavior that he might not have the political muscle to get this terrible budget approved by the Congress. In other words, if you're a poor minority in this country, your best hope is a weakened presidency. Isn't that a shame?