Skip to Content
MIT Technology Review

The EPA Is Bracing for Big Change

An unfavorable Trump budget and promises of “aggressive” regulation rollbacks could leave the agency a shadow of its former self.

February 28, 2017
Scott Pruitt addresses Environmental Protection Agency staff earlier this month.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency looks increasingly set for a massive shake-up.

Yesterday, Donald Trump sketched out his first federal budget and, while short on specifics, he did say that his plan involved a $54 billion increase in military spending to improve national security. That money will, of course, have to be re-routed from other federal initiatives, and the EPA will, the White House has suggested, take a hit.

Perhaps quite a big hit. Officials have told Axios that we can expect “massive, transformational cuts, particularly to climate-change programs” at the agency. Currently, its budget is $8.3 billion, with a staff of 15,000. But Myron Ebell, who led the Trump transition team’s analysis of the EPA, reckons that the administration could cut the workforce to 5,000.

It certainly looks like there will be fewer regulations for its staff to think about. Over the weekend, the agency’s chief, Scott Pruitt, explained that a number of its rules “need to be rolled back in a very aggressive way." In particular, he mentioned the Clean Power Plan, methane standards, and clean water rules. As our own James Temple has reported, severe policy shifts at the EPA could severely harm America’s ability to meet its Paris climate agreement commitments.

Perhaps strangest of all for a supposedly populist administration is the fact that such cuts don’t seem to echo public sentiment. Just last month, a report by the Pew Research Center showed that 65 percent of the population advocated the prioritization of renewable energy, while just 27 percent supported the wider used of fossil fuels.

Trump’s budget will be refined in the coming weeks, and is expected to be ready next month, when it will be chewed over by Congress for approval—so it’s not yet a done deal. But if his plans get the green light, the EPA could become a shadow of its former self, regardless of what the public thinks.

(Read more: New York Times, Scientific American, “On Energy, Trump Heads in the Opposite Direction from Public Opinion,” “How Much Damage Could Scott Pruitt Really Do at EPA?”)