Presidential budgets are usually nothing more than symbolic gestures of intent, released into the world with no real expectation that they’ll make it through Congress or be followed through in actual spending. In Trump’s case, while this has so far held true (his budgets have never been adopted in totality), they give a good sense of how we can expect to see the administration using administrative action to circumvent Congress in the coming year. This being the case, the FY2021 budget released this week paints a bleak picture of the future of America’s public lands.
Under the proposed budget from the Department of the Interior, captained by former oil industry lobbyist David Bernhardt, the Bureau of Land Management would lose around $144 million compared to its FY20 budget; the Fish and Wildlife Service would lose $265 million and the National Park Service around $581 million. The Land and Water Conservation Fund – America’s most important federal conservation program – would see its funding slashed by $470 million (97%). (The LWCF’s 2020 funding was already only a fraction of the full amount to which the program is entitled.)
Other highlights include cuts of $47 million from wildlife habitat management; $30 million from deferred maintenance (for context, the national parks have a deferred maintenance backlog totaling nearly $12 billion); $30 million from resource protection and maintenance (including $11 million from disused mine lands and hazardous materials cleanup); $29 million from sagebrush conservation; $24 million from aquatic habitat management; $11 million from rangeland management; $10 million from threatened and endangered species; $6 million from national monuments and national conservation areas; $3 million from cultural resources; and $1.6 million from wilderness management.
Elsewhere, the budget would slash funding for numerous federal environmental programs. The EPA would see its budget cut by 26% – including a nearly 50% reduction in research and development funding, from $500 million to around $280 million – and 50 of its programs cancelled. The administration’s attacks on science would get a major boost, with cuts of $300 million and the elimination of hundreds of research jobs from the U.S. Geological Survey.
The typically cavalier attitude toward environmental protection on display in this budget leaves few federal environmental programs unscathed. The energy industry, on the other hand, unsurprisingly wins big, with millions of extra dollars provided for fossil fuel development on public lands, including $195.5 million for the BLM’s oil and gas activities, $19 million for its coal management program and nearly $30 million for its various other energy projects.
In sum, it’s hard to imagine a government spending plan that would more readily unite conservationists against the administration. Given that Congress never pays any attention to Presidential budgets anyway, it’s perhaps best to read this as another attempt to foment division in a country that desperately needs the opposite in order to be able to address the environmental challenges it faces.