Presidential budgets don’t get adopted in totality, and thus far in his administration, President Trump’s have served only as signposts of intent, never followed through in actual spending. The FY2021 budget proposal released yesterday may be dead on arrival, but it gives another insight – as if one were necessary at this stage – into the administration’s indifference to the environment and disregard for America’s public lands legacy.
The proposed budget released by the Department of the Interior (DOI), captained by former oil industry lobbyist David Bernhardt, leaves no doubt about where the administration’s priorities lie.
Under the proposal, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) would lose around $144 million compared to its FY20 budget; the Fish and Wildlife Service would lose $265 million and the National Park Service around $581 million. The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) – the nation’s most important and successful federal conservation program – would have its funding slashed by $470 million (97 percent). (The LWCF’s 2020 funding was itself only a fraction of the full amount to which the program is entitled under the terms of its creation.)
Among the other “highlights” of this program of cuts are:
- $47 million from wildlife habitat management;
- $30 million from deferred maintenance (for context, the national parks currently have a deferred maintenance backlog totaling nearly $12 billion);
- $30 million from resource protection and maintenance (including $11 million from abandoned mine lands and hazardous materials cleanup);
- $29 million from sagebrush conservation;
- $24 million from aquatic habitat management;
- $11 million from rangeland management;
- $10 million from threatened and endangered species;
- $6 million from national monuments and national conservation areas;
- $3 million from cultural resources; and
- $1.6 million from wilderness management.
Polluters, on the other hand, would win big from this budget. The proposals provide millions of dollars for fossil fuel development on public lands, including $195.5 million for the BLM’s oil and gas activities, $19 million for its coal management program and $29.5 million for its various other energy projects.
Elsewhere, the budget would slash funding for numerous federal environmental programs. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would see its budget cut by 26 percent – including a 50 percent reduction in research and development funding, from $500 million to around $280 million – and the cancellation of 50 of its programs. The administration’s attacks on science would get a major boost, with cuts of $300 million and the elimination of hundreds of research jobs from the U.S. Geological Survey.
This reckless, cut-it-all approach to conservation and the environment leaves few projects unscathed. It’s hard to imagine a proposal that would more readily unite conservationists against the administration, so perhaps it’s best read as yet another effort to foment division in a country that desperately needs the opposite in order to address the environmental challenges it faces.
Alaska pipeline photo: Piqsels, Creative Commons Zero – CC0
Policy Analyst, Frontier Group
James Horrox is a policy analyst at Frontier Group, based in Los Angeles. He holds a BA and PhD in politics and has taught at Manchester University, the University of Salford and the Open University in his native UK. He has worked as a freelance academic editor for more than a decade, and before joining Frontier Group in 2019 he spent two years as a prospect researcher in the Public Interest Network's LA office. His writing has been published in various media outlets, books, journals and reference works.