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Trump’s Proposed EPA Cuts Threaten Health & Lives of Tens of Millions of Americans

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New details have emerged on the Trump administration’s plans to dramatically reduce the power of the Environmental Protection Agency. According to a leaked copy of the EPA’s 2018 budget proposal, the agency’s overall budget would be slashed by 25 percent. “The bottom line, if these cuts go through, we can almost guarantee with certainty that there will be more premature deaths and more sicknesses throughout the country,” says Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies. “The public should be outraged at that.” This comes as the Trump administration has vowed to roll back Obama-era EPA actions, and the White House continues to grapple with its position on the Paris climate agreement. We are also joined by Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.

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AMY GOODMAN: New details have emerged on the Trump administration’s plans to slash the Environmental Protection Agency. According to a leaked copy of the EPA’s 2018 budget, the agency’s overall budget would be slashed by 25 percent. Staffing would be reduced by 20 percent, or by 3,000 jobs. The plan calls for the complete elimination of EPA programs on climate change, toxic waste cleanup, environmental justice and funding for Native Alaskan villages. It would slash funding to states for clean air and water programs by 30 percent. New EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt appeared to downplay the severity of the cuts in a speech Thursday to the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

SCOTT PRUITT: In this budget discussion that’s ongoing with Congress, it’s a—it’s just starting, so there are some concerns about some of these grant programs that EPA has been a part of historically. I want you to know that, with the White House and also with Congress, I am communicating the message that the brownfields program, the Superfund program, water infrastructure, WIFIA grants, state revolving funds are essential to protect.

AMY GOODMAN: The proposed cuts to the EPA’s budget come as the Trump administration has vowed to roll back Obama-era EPA actions, including major climate change regulations like the Clean Power Plan and climate change research. On Tuesday, Trump signed an executive order to begin the process of rewriting the 2015 water jurisdiction rule known as Waters of the United States, a law opposed by many conservatives. The act gives the federal government broad authority to limit pollution in major bodies of water, as well as in streams and wetlands that drain into those waters. This is President Trump speaking at the signing of the order.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: EPA’s so-called Waters of the United States rule is one of the worst examples of federal regulation, and it has truly run amok and is one of the rules most strongly opposed by farmers, ranchers and agricultural workers all across our land. It’s prohibiting them from being allowed to do what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s been a disaster. The EPA’s regulators were putting people out of jobs by the hundreds of thousands. And regulations and permits started treating our wonderful small farmers and small businesses as if they were a major industrial polluter. They treated them horribly.

AMY GOODMAN: All of this comes as the White House continues to grapple with its position on the Paris climate agreement. Trump vowed on the campaign trail to back out of the Paris deal, a promise that senior adviser and climate change denier Steve Bannon is urging the president to keep. However, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former head of Exxon, said, during his Senate confirmation hearing in January, he hopes to stay in the climate pact.

Well, for more, we’re going to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by two guests: Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, and Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Wenonah, let’s begin with you. What about the slashing of the EPA programs and staff?

WENONAH HAUTER: Well, it’s outrageous. And I think we have to put it in context. The slashing of staff would put the number of employees down to about 12,400. In 2010, there were 17,000 employees. So we’ve already seen sharp cuts of the EPA budget, from $10 billion in 2010 to now it would be $6 billion. It also takes the number of EPA employees down to about 1985 levels. And we should be clear that 90 percent of EPA programs are run by state agencies. Half the staff is located in regional offices. So, Scott Pruitt is talking out of both sides of his mouth. He said during his hearing that he believed that the states should be enforcing environmental laws, and yet they’re cutting the budget so that the states will not have the funding to be able to keep our most precious resources clean.

AMY GOODMAN: Waters of the United States rule, talk about the significance of this, Wenonah.

WENONAH HAUTER: Well, I think most Americans believe that safe drinking water is important. They want their tap water to be safe to drink. If there are chemical pollutants going into small streams, they eventually reach a large body of water that, in many cases, is going to be used for drinking water. And the American Farm Bureau has been one of the largest lobbyists against anything to do with protecting water bodies. And they really represent not small farmers, but agribusiness and the chemical industry. And so, this is really going to be devastating to drinking water, along with the other cuts that we’re going to see.

AMY GOODMAN: You are head of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies. How is the air we breathe affected by these proposals?

BILL BECKER: It’s going to—it’s going to be overwhelming. It’s going to rip the soul out of state and local governmental implementation. There are more people who die from air pollution today—40,000—than from almost not only every other environmental problem, but most other social problems we face. As many—

AMY GOODMAN: Like terrorist attacks.

BILL BECKER: Like terrorist attacks, like drunk driving, like gun violence. And yet, we simply don’t have the luxury of sweeping these budget cuts under the rug and ignoring them.

There are three basic problems with the budget cuts. Number one, as Wenonah said, it slashes the EPA staff and the EPA budget by 20 to 25 percent. That’s unsustainable, at a time when we need EPA to be the backstop.

Second, as you pointed out in your preliminary remarks, this budget cuts, eliminates, 38 very important, bipartisan, successful programs, ranging from brownfields development to reducing diesel emissions from trucks and from construction equipment. It eliminates almost entirely money that goes to the Great Lakes. It eliminates the radon program.

And finally—Wenonah was getting to this—at a time when President Trump and Administrator Pruitt are saying, “Let’s get regulation out of Washington, D.C., away from EPA, and give it to the states,” in the same breath, they’re cutting the federal grants to the states to do this work by 30 to 40 percent. That’s unacceptable.

And the bottom line, if these cuts go through, we can almost guarantee with certainty that there will be more premature deaths and more sicknesses throughout the country. And the public should be outraged at that.

AMY GOODMAN: Wenonah Hauter, this battle in the White House over whether to withdraw from the—from the Paris climate accord, with Steve Bannon, the white supremacist, white nationalist senior adviser of President Trump on the one side, and, interestingly, Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, secretary of state now, on the other. Can you talk about this and this recent revelation of a film that ExxonMobil put out on climate change decades ago? We already know about their decades’ cover-up of their own research on the threat of climate change and human involvement in it.

WENONAH HAUTER: Well, first of all, I’m not too surprised to see the Trump administration talking out of both sides of their mouth. We know that Steve Bannon is strictly ideological—in fact, wants to destroy the environment and many of the people in it. Rex Tillerson, when he was CEO of Exxon, actually supported the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement did not have hard targets or sanctions. The most concrete thing in the agreement was to use measurements, that each signatory would use measurements that could be verified, going forward. So, Tillerson wants to have a seat at the table, as he said, and doesn’t want to appear to be as strident internationally. But we should be clear that we need to do a lot more than be one of the signatories to the Paris Agreement. And, of course, there’s now some talk that Congress would actually make it a treaty, and there would have to be a vote in Congress, which is nonsense, since it isn’t actually a treaty.

Now, as far as the Shell film from 1981.

AMY GOODMAN: 1991.

WENONAH HAUTER: Yeah, I’m sorry, 1991, Climate of Concern. It laid out many of the problems that we see today: climate refugees, famine, the erratic weather. And so, it’s not too surprising that Shell put out this film at that time, because we know that from the 1960s, at least, Shell, Exxon, Chevron, the American Petroleum Institute—they were meeting. They were talking about science. They were hiring scientists to do climate research, so that they could be on top of policies related to climate. What they didn’t do is stop using fossil fuels. They used that science for their propaganda machine to continue investing, as Shell has, in the tar sands, in supporting lobbying machines like ALEC to lobby against the policies that would actually protect us against climate change, which really is the most pressing issue that we face, going forward.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to wrap up, but, Bill Becker, I wanted to ask you: Are these done deals, slashing the staff by 20 percent, slashing the climate justice area of EPA and all the other issues that we’ve been talking about? Is this a done deal? Does the public have any involvement?

BILL BECKER: It is not a done deal, if we can help it. I was one who received a copy of the leaked document. And my goal was to shine as bright a light on the details of this document, so that other groups—Wenonah’s group and many, many, many other groups, including Congress—can weigh in and allow the public to understand that the air they breathe, the water they drink, can be hazardous to your health, and it takes money and staff, not only at EPA, but at the state and local governmental agencies, to protect public health. These were laws set by Congress. They were to be administered by state and local agencies with EPA oversight. And we will do everything in our power to try to restore these recommended cuts. And fortunately, we’ve already heard from some congressmen and senators, Republicans included, that these cuts simply, in many instances, are not sustainable. And we’re going to work to make sure that they’re not going to be cut.

AMY GOODMAN: And we’ll link to that document at democracynow.org. Bill Becker, National Association of Clean Air Agencies executive director, and Wenonah Hauter, head of Food & Water Watch, thanks so much for joining us.

When we come back, it’s the first anniversary of the assassination of the great environmentalist Berta Cáceres. We’ll go to London to talk about what is known about her assassins. Stay with us.

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