Sunrise over the terrain at North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Sunrise over the terrain at North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt National Park. (Photo: Dave Bruner, NPS)
Indefinitely Wild

What Trump’s 2021 Budget Means for the Environment

Analyzing cuts to the National Park Service, Environmental Protection Agency, and Land and Water Conservation Fund

Sunrise over the terrain at North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

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Numbers don’t lie. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest changes in the White House’s proposed 2021 budget, then compare them to the administration’s rhetoric. 

A note on White House budgets: Congress, not the executive branch, sets budgets. So think of the White House budget more as a statement of the administration’s priorities for the next year, rather than an accurate representation of the money that will be spent or cut. It should also be noted that, despite cuts like these and many more, this budget is not actually intended to save money. It’s projected that it would actually add $1 trillion to the national deficit. 

Defunding the Land and Water Conservation Fund

When it was passed into law way back in 1965, the bi-partisan Land and Water Conservation Fund was budgeted at $900 million annually, using funds drawn from the lease payments offshore drilling pays the federal government. It’s since spent $4.7 billion funding over 40,000 projects in all 50 states, and protecting 2.37 million acres. The pot of money can be used to support public access, recreational opportunities, and support ecosystem preservation. Whether you know it or not, the places you recreate outdoors have benefited from LWCF funding. 

If you’re thinking that $4.7 billion sounds like an awful lot less than $900 million times 55 years, you’re not wrong. LWCF funding has been used as a political football throughout its history, and has only been fully funded twice. Note that the funding cap has not been adjusted for inflation, either. Congress allowed LWCF authorization to expire in 2018, so when President Trump signed the Dingell Act into law last year, re-authorizing the law and funding it with $484 million of offshore drilling lease money, he was rightly praised. 

Unfortunately, a fund is meaningless without funding. And the budget Trump is proposing for 2021 cuts $470 million from its bottom line, which would leave it with only $14.7 million to spend. 

Slashing the Environmental Protection Agency

President Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970, tasking it with regulating the polluting activities of industry. The agency is responsible for administering foundational laws like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. 

Since entering office, the Trump administration has made a concerted effort to roll back government regulation of industry, reducing the protections the American public has benefited from for 50 years. And in this budget, the White House is proposing a 26 percent cut in EPA funding. 

That cut would eliminate 50 programs at the EPA, and reduce funding for many others. It would also slash the research and development budget for clean energy in half. Among the cut programs are efforts to eliminate the presence of lead in drinking water, and eliminate radon—a carcinogen—from homes. The changes also disproportionately affect traditionally Democrat-leaning states, while leaving battleground states alone. Projects protecting clean water in states like New York and Washington would be eliminated, while similar efforts in Florida go unmolested. 

This isn’t the first time Trump has proposed massive cuts to the EPA. Last year’s budget proposed a 31 percent cut in the agency’s funding.

Addresses .008 Percent of the National Park Service’s Maintenance Budget

“The National Park Service has a long history of preserving and protecting the natural and cultural sites that tell America’s story,” reads the budget’s text. “To continue this tradition and ensure preservation of national parks for generations to come, the Budget provides $314 million to help address NPS’s deferred maintenance backlog.” 

The budget proposes a $581 million cut to NPS funding. 

The last time we got an update on that maintenance backlog was way back in 2018, when it stood at $11.9 billion. That was before the protracted government shutdown in which parks were left open, but unstaffed. The Department of the Interior, which oversees NPS, has yet to release a total for the damage incurred to parks during the shutdown, despite pressure from Congress to do so. As of 2018, the backlog was expanding at a rate of $313 million annually. Even if the proposed $314 million does reach parks infrastructure, it will only reduce the backlog by $1 million, or .008 percent of the 2018 total. And that does not account for damage that may result from those $581 million in budget cuts. 

The budget does propose $300,000 in NPS funding for the boyhood home of Ronald Reagan, which has struggled financially in recent years. 

Lead Photo: Dave Bruner, NPS

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