A leading critic of the Environmental Protection Agency who served on President Trump’s transition team is very encouraged by the administration approach to the agency in policy and budget, but he says Trump must make good on his promise to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate change agreement.
Trump’s proposed budget made headlines this week, calling for big cuts in many departments of the federal government. The blueprint calls for a 31 percent reduction in spending at the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA. Trump plans to spend no more money on climate-change projects.
“We’re not spending any more money on that,” said Budget Director Mick Mulvaney. “We consider that to be a waste of your money to go out and do that.”
Competitive Enterprise Institute Senior Fellow Christopher C. Horner served on Trump’s “landing team” at EPA. He is very encouraged by Trump’s fiscal approach to the agency.
“It’s a complete departure from anything you might expect from any administration, which is usually, ‘We will just slow the rate of growth,’ no matter what they think of something. That’s sort of the worst thing they would ever consider doing,” said Horner.
He said Trump has no patience for EPA climate-change policies that even Obama-era administrator Gina McCarthy admitted were more symbolic than substantive.
“He’s throwing this out the window, saying: ‘We’re trillions in debt. Symbolism is the first thing to go. This is a waste of your money.’ So I think that’s fantastic,” said Horner.
Horner said the trimming will allow the EPA do the job it’s supposed to do rather than burdening Americans with bureaucratic rules.
“They have statutory mandates. They have statutory deadlines. They’ve never met one they liked, but they go off on these very expensive, very harmful hobbies and ideological ax-grinding,” said Horner.
“What they’re saying is, ‘You seem to have an awful lot of time and other people’s money to do that. Why don’t you stick to your knitting and focus on actual environmental problems and actual environmental mandates from Congress,'” said Horner.
Horner said it’s not hard to find places to cut at EPA.
“This is an agency that has grown essentially from an executive order to, over time, consuming major parts of the economy, and tax revenues, and our debt. The expansion from the statutory mission is breathtaking,” said Horner.
Horner also said his experiences at EPA while serving on the landing team left him underwhelmed.
“The insistence by people, including those you might imagine, can’t even tell you how many people work there. But they need more money to do their job because the agency is so big. Yet, if you ask them, for example, ‘What is your role in the federal-state partnership,” they will tell you it is ‘partnering.’ OK, well that’s a big flag that maybe this is a good place to save some money,” said Horner.
But while Horner is very pleased with the actions Trump is taking thus far at the EPA, he is pleading with the president to formally withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement signed by the Obama administration in its final months.
He said the consequences of not backing out soon will be very real.
“You’re going to see the pain of the sort that was pointed out in the presidential campaign of these policies but worse and worse every year with more and more promises to make it worse every five years,” said Horner.
While the terms of the treaty are effectively voluntary, Horner said every five years there will be immense international pressure and public shaming for the U.S. to keep lowering emissions levels and meeting other targets to keep up with it.
Obama refused to call it a treaty to dodge rejection of the deal in the U.S. Senate.
But because he took that strategic approach, Horner pointed out Trump can exit the deal just as easily.
“For months before the terms were agreed, [the Obama administration] said, ‘I can’t tell you what it is, but I can tell you it’s not a treaty.’ In other words, whatever happens, we’re going to say it’s not a treaty. That is a ‘what are you going to do about it approach.’ If you live by the ‘what are you going to do about it’ approach, then it can also die by it. President Trump promised to cancel the Paris climate treaty,” said Horner.
Horner said the only argument being made against withdrawing is the international blowback that would come for the U.S. But he said the whole point of the treaty is to shame the U.S. for any reluctance to restrict emissions, so staying in the agreement would only make the criticism more intense.
However, despite Trump’s campaign promises, Horner suspects Trump won’t pull out of the agreement.
“I’m encouraged that the issue seems to be open again because I think the wrong answer was reached. So we have time, but I have to tell you I’m not very confident because people very close to the president are pushing for him to break this campaign promise,” said Horner.
He said time is of the essence.
“If President Trump doesn’t get out of this within the next two months, probably six weeks and certainly by the July G-20 meeting in Hamburg, July 7-8, then we’re probably in this forever,” said Horner.