Donald Trump plans to cut spending on EPA climate change programme by 70%

Initiative to combat greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced to $29m (£23m) under proposal

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The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could face cuts of up to 70 per cent to its climate change programmes under a new White House proposal.

President Donald Trump has long made clear his intention to reverse his predecessor Barack Obama's green legacy, however he also pledged that any changes would not jeopardise America's water and air quality.

The 23-page budget proposal for 2018 aims to slice the environmental regulator's overall budget by 25 per cent to $6.1 billion (£5bn) and staffing by 20 per cent to 12,400 as part of a broader effort to fund increased military spending.

It would also cut deeply into programmes like climate protection, environmental justice and enforcement.

The Washington Post was first to report cuts to staffing and budget, however a source disclosed new details to Reuters on the potential impact of cuts on EPA programmes, including to grants that support American Indian tribes and energy efficiency initiatives.

The proposal would cut state grants for lead cleanup by 30 per cent to $9.8 million (£7.9m). 

It would also see grants to help native tribes combat pollution reduced by 30 per cent to $45.8 million (£37m). 

An EPA climate protection programme on cutting emissions of greenhouse gases like methane that contribute to global warming would be cut by 70 per cent to $29 million (£23.6m).

The EPA announced it is withdrawing an Obama-era request that oil and natural gas companies provide information on methane emissions at oil and gas operations on Thursday. 

EPA head Scott Pruitt said the withdrawal would be effective immediately, adding that he wants to assess the need for the information the agency has been collecting under a directive issued in November.

Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and eight other states had questioned the reporting request as overly burdensome.

Mr Pruitt, who until last month was Oklahoma attorney general, said removing the reporting request signals that EPA under his leadership takes seriously the concerns of state officials.

"We are committed to strengthening our partnership with the states," he said in a statement. "Today's action will reduce burdens on businesses while we take a closer look at the need for additional information from this industry."

The Trump administration proposal would cut funding for the brownfields industrial site cleanup program by 42 per cent to $14.7 million (£11.9m). It would also reduce funding for enforcing pollution laws by 11 per cent to $153 million (£125m).

The budget did not cut state revolving funds for programmes that Congress tapped last year to provide aid to Flint, Michigan, for its lead pollution crisis.

All staff at a research program, called Global Change Research, as well as 37 other programmes would be cut under the plan.

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The Republican-led Congress would have to approve any EPA cuts. Some of the cuts are unlikely to pass as they will be unpopular with both Democrats and Republicans.

Congress would be unlikely to approve a proposal to cut all staff in a diesel emissions program, for example.

Mr Pruitt told US mayors he would make a priority of cleanups of industrial and hazardous waste sites and improving water infrastructure, even as the White House proposed severe cuts to those programmes.

"In this budget discussion that is ongoing with Congress that is just starting, there are some concerns about some of these grant programmes that EPA has been a part of historically," he said.

"I want you to know that with the White House and also with Congress, I am communicating a message that the brownfields programme, the Superfund programme and the water infrastructure grants and state revolving funds are essential to protect."

A state air pollution expert said the programme cuts, if enacted, would harm some of the people most at risk from particulate and lead contamination.

"Any of these programmes where they've cut air pollution or water pollution is going to have a direct effect on inner cities," said Bill Becker, director of the National Association of Clean Air.

It came as the Trump administration forced the EPA to delete all of its pages on climate change last month.

The move came as part of a broader crackdown on postings by all agencies who track the effects of global warming on the environment. 

All of those organisations – as well as others, like the National Parks Service – were banned from talking to the public by the US government.

Now scientists are scrambling to save some of the most important parts of the EPA's website before they are deleted off the internet entirely.

"If the website goes dark, years of work we have done on climate change will disappear," one official told Reuters soon after the order to shut down the website was sent.

Additional reporting by Reuters