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Trump calls for slashing funding for toxic Superfund cleanup

President Donald Trump speaks during a 'White House Business Session with our Nation's Governors," in the State Dinning Room of the White House, Monday, Feb.10, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
President Donald Trump speaks during a 'White House Business Session with our Nation's Governors," in the State Dinning Room of the White House, Monday, Feb.10, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Donald Trump asked Congress on Monday to slash funding for the Superfund program around the country, despite already building up the biggest backlog in 15 years of hazardous waste clean-ups stalled for lack of money.

Overall, the president proposed cutting $2.4 billion, or 26%, out of the budget for the Environmental Protection Agency. Trump vowed as a candidate to cut all but “little tidbits” of the EPA in a push to eliminate regulations he sees as burdening businesses. As president he has called annually for cuts nearing one-third of the agency's budget.

Trump's budget statement to Congress said his latest pared-back budget request for EPA “advances work on key priority areas, while reigning (sic) in unnecessary spending."

“This budget perfectly reflects President Trump’s views on protecting public health and preventing pollution: He’s against both,” said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group advocacy group.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress annually have overridden Trump's proposals to reduce the agency's environmental and public health oversight, keeping funding roughly even.

Beside Superfund reductions, other major cuts for the EPA in Trump’s latest proposal include eliminating $66 million in funding for the Energy Star program — a popular program that lets consumers compare the energy efficiency of appliances — and for voluntary climate programs.

The president's budget more broadly calls for cutting assistance to states to help them run their environmental programs and reducing overall funding for clean air and water programs. Trump also seeks to chop the EPA workforce, eliminating 1,562 of the agency's 14,172 full-time staffers.

“The message from the administration could not be more clear—if we can’t eliminate EPA, then let’s starve it out of business,” the Environmental Protection Network, a coalition of former EPA employees often critical of the administration's environmental rollbacks, said in a statement.

Trump and his EPA administrators have stressed Superfund clean-ups as one of their top environmental priorities.

However, as The Associated Press reported in January, the Trump administration has built up the biggest backlog of unfunded toxic Superfund clean-up projects in at least 15 years, nearly triple the number that were stalled for lack of money in the Obama era, agency figures show.

The four-decade-old Superfund program is meant to tackle some of the most heavily contaminated sites in the U.S., which threaten the residents, wildlife and habitat around the sites with dangerous industrial pollutants. Many of the dangerous industrial sites, and other health threats overall, are disproportionately in communities of people of color and low-income residents.

Trump’s proposal says the cut reflects that his administration is running the Superfund program more efficiently, and “challenges the agency to optimize the use of settlement funds for the cleanup actions” at those Superfund sites where a responsible company has been found to pay for the work.

Federal agencies typically hold calls with reporters on the day a presidential budget is released, to go over highlights — as an administration sees them — and answer questions. While several agencies followed that practice Monday, the EPA did not.