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KUOW's environment beat brings you stories on the ongoing cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, alternative energy, the health of the Puget Sound, coal transportation and more. We're also partnered with several stations across the Northwest to bring you environmental news via EarthFix.

Trump's budget an 'all-out assault on Puget Sound'

KUOW/John Ryan photo
Puget Sound

In a budget marked by deep cuts across most federal agencies, science and environmental programs took some of the biggest hits in President Donald Trump’s proposed spending plan released Thursday.

The White House wants to eliminate more than 50 programs at the Environmental Protection Agency. Programs to be terminated include EPA grants for Puget Sound.

Those grants have fueled the state-mandated effort to restore the ecological health of the sound by the year 2020. EPA has given local governments, nonprofits and tribes $28 million for Puget Sound restoration in the latest fiscal year.

Swinomish tribal chair and National Congress of American Indians president Brian Cladoosby called the budget proposal “an all-out assault on Puget Sound.”

The Swinomish, with a reservation on the shores of Skagit Bay, have prioritized the restoration of Puget Sound and the salmon they have longstanding treaty rights to catch. With much of the low-lying reservation at risk from sea level rise, the tribal government has also focused on planning for climate change.

“We’ve lived under a pollution-based economy the last 100 years, and Puget Sound has been adversely affected,” Cladoosby said. “It is a time where we have to put resources in trying to clean it up, not taking resources away to make it worse.”

In all, the White House proposes to knock 31 percent — more than at any other major federal agency — off EPA’s $8.2 billion budget and eliminate 3,200 positions, about one out of five jobs at the EPA.

The proposals add up to some of the deepest cuts any federal agency has seen in decades.

“Lower priority and poorly performing” EPA programs on the chopping block include:

  • Regionally focused programs: Puget Sound, Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay, among others.
  • Clean Power Plan: the Obama administration’s largest initiative aimed at reducing carbon pollution and climate change.
  • Climate change research.
  • Energy Star: a program that steers manufacturers and consumers toward energy-saving products.
  • Infrastructure assistance to Alaska Native villages for clean water, sanitation and other needs.

With a wide range of social and environmental programs slated for elimination, Cladoosby said Native Americans would be hit the hardest.
“When these cuts happen, they always hurt the poorest of the poor,” he said. “Native Americans by far are in worse economic shape than any segment of the American population.”

The White House budget document says the EPA spending cuts reflect the president’s goal "to ease the burden of unnecessary Federal regulations that impose significant costs for workers and consumers without justifiable environmental benefits."

At a press briefing Thursday, Trump’s budget chief Mick Mulvaney said why the White House wants to eliminate funding for climate research.

"As to climate change, I think the president was fairly straightforward. We’re not spending money on that anymore,” he said. “We consider that to be a waste of your money."

Three agencies would get more money under Trump's proposal: the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs.

Congress’s call

Whatever the White House proposes, how much Uncle Sam spends is ultimately up to the Republican-controlled Congress.

Three Republican members of the Washington delegation — representatives Jaime Herrera Beutler, Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Dave Reichert — declined to be interviewed.

A statement emailed by his spokesperson quotes Reichert, “While I appreciate the administration’s support for the military and goal of reducing the federal budget, I do not agree with many of the proposed cuts.” The statement says Reichert supports “robust” funding for environment, health, education, public broadcasting and law enforcement.

McMorris Rodgers told Fox Business News that Trump’s budget is part of an effort to rethink government from top to bottom.

“I think Americans have been hungry for us to do that kind of a review, and that’s what he’s initiating in this process,” she said.

The fourth Republican in the Washington delegation, Rep. Dan Newhouse, did not respond to interview requests.

“People don't know whether their jobs are on the line or not,” an EPA staffer who spoke on condition of anonymity, told KUOW. “And people don't know what to tell the parties who are receiving our grants what to expect or plan for.”

Another anonymous staffer gave some tongue-in-cheek advice: If EPA’s budget does wind up being cut by 31 percent, “don’t drink the water.”

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