Architects worried about deep cuts to environmental programs under the Trump administration got a temporary reprieve last week when Congress passed a $1 trillion spending bill that spares the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—at least until Sept. 30, when the fiscal year ends.
To avert a partial government shutdown, legislators struck a budget deal that either maintains or only slightly cuts existing levels of funding for agencies that regualate and research energy and the environment. Most dramatically, the EPA—which Trump’s budget outline targets for billions of dollars in cuts, equal to nearly a third of the agency’s annual budget—receives only a minor ding: a reduction of $81.4 million below the current fiscal year, or about 1 percent. The spending bill keeps EPA staffing steady at 15,000 people, which is still its smallest workforce since Ronald Reagan left office.
However, the deal is a temporary spending bill and not technically a budget. It only postpones what will likely be a bitter fight between Republicans and Democrats over funding for environmental initiatives that could have an impact on the building industry.
Asked how the EPA will advocate between now and September to maintain adequate funding for environmental protection, spokeswoman Liz Bowman offered this statement via email: “While many in Washington insist on greater spending, EPA is focused on greater value and results. The EPA will partner with the states to ensure a thoughtful approach is used to maximize every dollar to protect our air, land, and water.”
Many in the design and planning industries, meanwhile, continue to make their case for energy-efficiency programs such as Energy Star, whose approximately $50 million budget is overseen by EPA and the Department of Energy (DOE). In April, more than a thousand businesses and organizations sent an open letter to Congress touting Energy Star as “a cost-effective, market-based tool helping businesses, consumers, homeowners, state and local governments, schools, and other organizations save money by investing in energy efficiency.” The AIA was among those who signed the letter.
The temporary spending bill does include cuts to some environmental programs in other departments. Renewable energy programs under the DOE that the House Appropriations Committee deemed as having “already received significant investments in recent years” are cut by $808 million, or about 29 percent below the $2.72 billion for energy efficiency and renewable energy budget allocated by the previous administration. That includes money for research into how to make buildings more energy efficient.
Funding for research related to environmental sustainability at the Department of Transportation and the Department of Housing and Urban Development is increased slightly from about $15 million to about $16 million. Also receiving a slight bump is the Department of Transportation's NextGen Environmental Research program for alternative jet fuel.
At the State Department, the spending bill allocates no money to the Green Climate Fund, a United Nations program to help developing nations adapt to climate change. It also zeroes out funding for the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), widely recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on climate research. To date, the U.S. has contributed only $1 billion of the $3 billion it pledged to the Green Climate Fund in 2014; the U.S. has provided more than one-third of the IPCC’s funding since its inception in 1989.
Advocates for environmental programs are not sitting idle. Michael Cavanaugh, AIA, CannonDesign’s Boston-based sustainability leader and vice president, says now is more important than ever for designers who don’t want to see federal environmental programs cut to speak up. “This new spending bill only gets us through September, and it is anticipated that the current administration will take these next few months to convince legislators to agree to deep cuts to come,” he says. “The key thing is stay vigilant, stay aware, network, build up organizations that have been following this stuff, and mobilize.”