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This Week in “Deconstruction”

March 4, 2017


The continuing uproar over RussiaGate has not distracted the Trump administration from its aim of “deconstructing the administrative state.”  The practical implications became startlingly real when Trump’s budget proposal was released on Monday calling for a major increase in spending for defense and correspondingly sharp cuts for programs relating to education, the environment, science, and the social safety net.

No agency is under greater attack than the Environmental Protection Agency, which is now anticipating having to cut staff by 20 percent and eliminate dozens of programs. An avowed foe of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, was confirmed last week as the agency’s director, and he appears determined to cripple the EPA’s enforcement and monitoring capabilities as quickly as possible. Grants to states, as well as EPA air and water programs, would be cut by 30 percent. The massive Chesapeake Bay cleanup project would receive only $5 million in the next fiscal year, down from its current $73 million.

The New York Times reported that Trump will likely sign executive orders next week aimed at destroying the major pillars of Mr. Obama’s environmental legacy. One of these is the 2015 rule known as the Waters of the United States, which 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 larger waters. Another would begin the process of withdrawing and revising Mr. Obama’s signature 2015 climate-change regulation, aimed at curbing emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases from coal-fired power plants.

According to the Washington Post, the EPA will pull back on strict fuel-efficiency standards for future cars and light trucks, dating from a 2009 deal struck with the Obama administration. Two associations representing the world’s biggest automakers last week asked EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to reconsider the standards for model years 2022 to 2025, which would require the nation’s car and light-truck fleet to average 54.5 miles per gallon by the end of that period. The Trump administration reportedly wants to issue an executive order that would revoke California’s ability to set its own, tighter targets for those model years. California is the only state allowed to do so under the Clean Air Act, but other states can adopt its regulations as their own.

The NYT also reports that the Trump administration intends to relax restrictions on tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide, a change that will not require action by Congress. Of course, all of these measures are key elements of the US commitment under the 2014 Paris Agreement to cut greenhouse gas pollution that is producing global climate change.

Speaking of climate change, the Washington Post reported that the administration is planning a 17 percent cut in the budget of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the nation’s premier climate science agency. This would impose big cuts on research funding and satellite programs which produce much of the data on which climate science depends.The OMB outline for the Commerce Department (of which NOAA is a part) for fiscal 2018 proposed sharp reductions in specific areas within NOAA such as spending on education, grants and research. For an administration that denies the reality of climate change, that is probably exactly the goal.

The Post notes further that the proposed cuts would also eliminate funding for a variety of smaller programs, including external research, coastal management, estuary reserves and “coastal resilience,” which seeks to bolster the ability of coastal areas to withstand major storms and rising seas.

Trump’s budget would also slash funding for the already-struggling Internal Revenue Service by some 14.1 percent, according to the New York Times. The IRS has already been weakened severely by previous budget cuts imposed by the Republican-controlled Congress. The Times notes that individual tax return audits fell last year to its lowest level since 2004, and enforcement staffing levels were down by nearly 30 percent from 2010, to just below 16,000. Criminal investigations related to tax-related identity theft, money laundering, public corruption, cybercrime and terrorist financing also are on the decline as well. Maybe Trump thinks that’s a good thing. Crippling the IRS is one way of realizing the conservative dream of “starving the beast.”

On Thursday, the newly-confirmed Secretary of the Interior (Ryan Zinke, a former congressman from Montana) rode to work like Marlboro Man astride a horse borrowed from the Park Police. Among his first official acts was to overturn the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s guidance to agency managers to phase out the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle on national wildlife refuges by 2022. Residual lead fragments are estimated to kill between 10 and 20 million birds each year, along with other species. But it’s an intolerable burden to ask hunters and anglers to spend a few extra cents for non-toxic substitutes.

The WaPo has also noted that this week Trump signed some executive orders without the fanfare of reporters and photographers being present. These would be the ones that the White House has apparently decided maybe wouldn’t look so good to the public.  One such recent signing was to rescind the Obama regulation to tighten gun background checks by requiring the Social Security Administration ro release the names of people who receive government checks for being mentally disabled and others who have been deemed unable to handle their own financial affairs to the FBI office that runs the national background check database. The NRA thinks it’s fine for mental incompetents to have guns and evidently the Trump administration does too.  They’d just rather that everybody didn’t know about it.

It’s really happening, people!

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