Trump dismantling the EPA won’t save much money because the agency already spends so little

If we want to avoid more catastrophes like Flint’s polluted water crises, maybe we should rethink where federal dollars go.
If we want to avoid more catastrophes like Flint’s polluted water crises, maybe we should rethink where federal dollars go.
Image: Reuters/Rebecca Cook/File Photo
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

President-elect Donald Trump has made it clear he’s no fan of the US Environmental Protection Agency.

As he campaigned throughout the past summer and fall, he regularly name-checked the EPA—the agency tasked with protecting human health and the environment by writing and enforcing regulations—as one of the key federal agencies on his takeout list. In February, Trump said he would disband the EPA entirely. In October, Trump promised (video, 4:08) to at the least cut agency regulations “70 to 80%.”

His appointee to helm the EPA transition over the next few months is Myron Ebell who, besides being a widely-known climate change denier who has worked closely with the fossil fuel industry for years, is no fan of the agency he’s been put (at least temporarily) in charge of: In 2011, Ebell wrote that Newt Gingrich’s plan to abolish the EPA was “bold and visionary.”

It seems, though, that neither Trump nor Ebell has actually taken a look at EPA spending recently. Under President Barack Obama, EPA spending has actually gone down, dropping to $8.3 billion in 2015—its lowest since the mid 1980s.

The only time since the EPA was founded that its budget dipped below its 2015 numbers was from 1974-1976, when overall government spending dropped precipitously.

To put the 2015 number in perspective, look at the EPA’s budget relative to overall spending. By that measure, the EPA is currently spending less relative government funds than ever.

In large part, the recent defunding of the EPA is due to appropriations bills that have had to pass through a House Appropriations Committee chaired and dominated by Republicans since 2011, and a Senate Appropriations Committee that has been Republican-led for the past two years. Prior to the Republican takeover of Congress, EPA funding was briefly on the rise.

It’s hard to connect budget cuts to specific changes that have been made to the EPA’s operation over the past few years, but in 2015, when the agency was facing a proposed appropriations bill with extreme cutbacks, the White House Office of Management and Budget sent a letter to the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee arguing that if passed, the bill would, among other things, “significantly undermine implementation of the Clean Power Plan and the Clean Water Rule” and “reduce grants to States and Tribes to carry out activities such as water quality permitting, air monitoring, and hazardous waste management.”

Here are the raw numbers by federal agency for 2015: