There is, as yet, no 2018 budget for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
What exists instead is a “skinny budget” proposal, released on Thursday by the White House. It advances a drastic and aggressively curtailed agenda for the EPA, planning to cut the agency’s budget by 31 percent while laying off 3,200 employees. Popular programs—like EnergyStar and some Superfund cleanups—would be slowed down or eliminated.
But a skinny budget proposal is still just a proposal—and a funny one at that. While this proposal hints at President Trump’s governance priorities, and serves as an initial negotiating position, it mostly markets his ideological bonafides to other Republicans. It’s fiduciary fan fiction for conservatives, basically, with little chance of becoming law. Not only will a tiny EPA be politically difficult to enact, but there are also sticky legal limits on the extent to which the non-military side of the government can be defunded.
It can hint at other negotiations, though: how much Cabinet secretaries are able to wrangle for their agencies. And on that front, there was a curious anecdote in Coral Davenport and Glenn Thrush’s New York Times story about how the Trump skinny budget came together. As you read it, remember that Obama left the EPA with a budget of $8.2 billion:
The E.P.A. administrator, Scott Pruitt, who has himself spoken out against some of the core missions of the agency he leads, went to the White House to request a smaller cut after the White House budget office first presented him its preferred spending level. He pressed for about $7 billion, according to the person. Instead, the White House slashed his budget down even further, to about $5.7 billion.
The Times is right: Scott Pruitt does seem to be “against some of the core missions of the agency.” He’s no environmentalist, either: He recently told CNBC that he doubted some of the most basic premises of climate science.