The Federal Budget: What It Could Mean for Occupational Safety, Health and the Environment

March 17, 2017
While the initial proposed budget is never the final budget, President Donald Trump’s preliminary budget has many in environment, health and safety worried.

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney calls “FY 2018 America First - A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again” – President Donald Trump’s first budget – “fairly compassionate.” But with a number of federal programs aimed at the elderly, children, workers and the environment facing deep cuts or complete elimination, environment, health and safety (EHS) professionals and others are concerned, particularly when combined with several Executive Orders signed since Trump took office.

When questioned by CNN’s Jim Acosta, Mulvaney said the budget “simply reallocates and reprioritizes spending as any family or business would do,” adding that the budget reflects Trump’s campaign promises to prioritize national defense and homeland security, including immigration reform.

But with deep cuts and even elimination proposed for a number of programs, including EPA, the Department of Labor, the Department of Transportation, Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health and the Chemical Safety Board, the proposed Trump budget makes a statement about the administration’s priorities.

The Department of Labor is facing a budget cut of $2.5 billion, nearly 21 percent of its total budget. If approved, this will result in cuts to:

  • Job training/employment/re-employment services.
  • Senior Community Service Employment Program (eliminated)
  • Job Corps
  • Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) grants (eliminated)
  • OSHA’s Susan Harwood Training Grant Program (eliminated)

“Working people in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin didn’t vote for a budget that slashes workforce training and fails to invest in our nation’s infrastructure,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “President Trump’s proposed budget attempts to balance the budget on the backs of working families. The $54 billion cut to programs that benefit working families is dangerous and destructive. Huge cuts to the departments of Labor, Education and Transportation will make workplaces less safe, put more children at risk and make improving our failing infrastructure much more difficult. The administration can and should do better.”

Laura Barrett, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice, called the proposed budget “a sellout of working people,” and took particular issue with cuts to the OSHA budget.

“Proposed cuts to (OSHA) – the agency charged with ensuring workplaces are in compliance with safety regulations – are particularly galling,” said Barrett. “Currently, there is only one OSHA inspector for every 59,000 working people in the nation, making it impossible for OSHA to inspect each and every workplace in the country. Instead, the most cost-effective way to prevent workplace injuries or death is to have a workforce educated in health and safety on the job.”

She noted that since its inception in 1978, more than 2.1 million working people have completed health and safety training under OSHA’s Susan Harwood Grant Program. “In the past five years, Interfaith Worker Justice and its affiliates have trained thousands of difficult-to-reach and often vulnerable working people on occupational health and safety issues. These trainings have saved lives and prevented serious workplace injuries and illnesses,” she added. “Cutting this relatively low-cost program from OSHA’s budget will put working people across the nation at risk of serious injury or death on the job.”

The budget also proposes the elimination of the Chemical Safety Board, an independent agency whose sole mission is to investigate accidents in the chemical industry and to make recommendations to prevent future accidents and improve safety.

CSB's Chairperson
 Vanessa Allen Sutherland said the agency is “disappointed” to see the president’s budget proposal to eliminate the agency. “For over 20 years, the CSB has conducted hundreds of investigations of high consequence chemical incidents, such as the Deepwater Horizon and West Fertilizer disasters,” said Sutherland. “Our investigations and recommendations have had an enormous effect on improving public safety. Our recommendations have resulted in banned natural gas blows in Connecticut, an improved fire code in New York City and increased public safety at oil and gas sites across the State of Mississippi.”

According to Sutherland, the CSB has been able to accomplish all of this with a small and limited budget. “As this process moves forward, we hope that the important mission of this agency will be preserved,” she added.

The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) also spoke out in support of the CSB.

“Chemical incidents don’t just impact an individual facility and its employees, they impact entire communities and often a substantial number of people around our nation,” said ASSE President Tom Cecich, CSP, CIH. “Understanding the cause of a serious incident benefits all of us. While we understand this administration aims to make the government leaner, more effective and more accountable, removing the only federal agency solely dedicated to investigating chemical incidents hurts the efforts to build stronger manufacturing capabilities.”

EPA, headed by Scott Pruitt, a former Oklahoma Attorney General who sued the agency multiple times in that role, is facing a drastic 25-30 percent budget cut, according to reports. If the proposed budget cuts occur, agency staffing, projects headed by contractors and several grant programs aimed at state environmental issues likely will be heavily impacted.

The proposed budget essentially eliminates the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), which was authorized for $300 million under the Obama administration but has been reduced to $10 million under Trump’s proposed budget. In his confirmation hearings, Pruitt promised to maintain funding for the GLRI, and allegedly was surprised by the president's move to strip it out of EPA's funding request.

That deep cut has drawn a rebuke from Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, who said: “The Great Lakes are an invaluable resource to Ohio, and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has been a successful public-private partnership that helps protect both our environment and our economy.”

Portman quoted a recent study, which found that the GLRI’s work generates a total of more than $80 billion in benefits in health, tourism, fishing and recreation. The study also states that GLRI saves communities like Toledo, Ohio $50 million in costs, and increases property values across the region by a total of $12 billion.

“The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative has been a critical tool in our efforts to help protect and restore Lake Erie, and when the Obama administration proposed cuts to the program, I helped lead the effort to restore full funding,” said Portman. “I have long championed this program, and I’m committed to continuing to do everything I can to protect and preserve Lake Erie, including preserving this critical program and its funding.” 

Portman also indicated that he voted to approve Pruitt's nomination to head EPA based in part on Pruitt's promise to fund GLRI.

President Trump already has signed Executive Orders that reduce the likelihood that additional OSHA or EPA regulations will be promulgated in the foreseeable future and that start the process of rolling back regulations already in place. Eliminating existing regulations takes more time, but it can be done. In addition, regulations that were under development when Trump took office were frozen by an Executive Order and are unlikely to go anywhere, say experts.

“We all know that pollution-induced disease, contaminated food, unsafe workplaces and dangerous consumer products inflict real economic and human tolls…” says a letter sent to the president about the Jan. 30 Executive Order required two existing regulations to be eliminated for each new proposed regulation that was signed by more than 130 environmental, public interest, worker advocacy and consumer watchdog groups. “Americans did not vote to be exposed to more health, safety, environmental and financial dangers.”

Many business organizations and associations are staying quiet about the budget. David F. Melcher, president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association, said that organization “welcomes the president’s proposal as the vital first step in determining national priorities for the coming years and looks forward to working with him and Congress as these proposals become law.”

He said that AIA embraces the increase in defense spending as a good first step but said that the $603 billion defense budget proposed by the president “will not go far enough toward restoring the lost buying power and delayed modernization imposed by Budget Control Act caps.” AIA supports raising the base defense budget to at least $640 billion in FY2018, he added.

He said AIA also is encouraged by Trump’s “continued commitment to reduce burdensome regulations,” but adds, “While we support much of the president’s plan, we are concerned about cuts in domestic spending in several government enterprises. For example, the FAA, under the Department of Transportation budget, provides critical certification and safety oversight functions that not only ensure the safety of our aircraft but ensure a continuing pipeline of technologically advanced new U.S.-built aircraft, engines and aerospace products into domestic and international markets.”

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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