By Devin Henry - 03-01-17 06:00 AM EST
President Trump has launched the opening salvo in his assault on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Trump is tearing into the EPA's budget by a reported 24 percent, which if approved by Congress would slash the agency's $8.1 billion budget to George H.W. Bush-era levels and reduce the EPA's workforce by one-fifth.
Trump and his newly installed EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, are also beginning an aggressive regulatory rollback at the agency, taking aim at climate change programs instituted or expanded under President Obama.
The president on Tuesday signed an executive order asking the EPA to rewrite a controversial water jurisdiction rule that was central to the agency's regulatory efforts under the Obama administration.
The moves are in line with Trump's rhetoric during the presidential campaign, when he promised to hobble an agency he considered bloated, overreaching and a threat to jobs in the United States.
Between the EPA actions and other executive orders fast-tracking two contentious pipeline projects, Democrats and environmentalists are bracing for bigger attacks on Obama's climate legacy.
"I always took him very seriously when it came to his desire to dismantle the Clean Air and the Clean Water Act, and he's going to try to go through with it," Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said.
Trump's budget proposal, Schatz said, is "radical, it's extreme and we will fight it. And of course a budget is a declaration of political objectives and not a binding document, so the committees will have their way with it, and I know we'll have a fight."
During the campaign, Trump promised to take a much more conservative approach to environmental issues as president.
He pledged to end the water rule and the Clean Power Plan, allow the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipeline projects to move forward, reform the EPA's regulatory power and expand fossil fuel development in the United States. So far, he's made progress on many of those goals, ratcheting up the stakes for environmentalists.
"I think what we're seeing is him continuing to put polluters first over the health of the American people over the last 24 hours," said Alex Taurel, the deputy legislative director at the League of Conservation Voters.
Rep. Ra l Grijalva (Ariz.), the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, said Trump's actions will lead to an EPA that "can't carry out the legal mandate."
"If this budget is enacted the way he wants it, he's effectively dealt a very significant death blow to the EPA," he said.
Trump's actions and proposals have encouraged his industry supporters and EPA critics on Capitol Hill, with many longtime opponents of the water rule claiming victory following the executive order signing on Tuesday.
Likewise, some conservatives welcomed his budget proposal.
"President Trump has come into office on a campaign promise of controlling the cost and size of government, and the fact that he's taking a bullseye on the EPA, that's good news," said Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-W.Va.), a member of the Appropriations Committee panel that sets the EPA's budget.
Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), a former chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said a proposed $2 billion cut to the agency is "in the neighborhood" of what he would like to see.
"I think they've overreached by a zillion points," he said of the EPA.
"They've overreached their authority, as the courts have held, and the regulations they've imposed on American business have killed thousands of jobs, and they need to be reined back in severely."
Even so, questions remain about the feasibility of Trump's plan.
Democrats are certain to oppose the deep cuts Trump will propose for the agency. Rep. Betty McCollum (Minn.), the top Democrat on the EPA appropriations panel, said Republicans are going to have to haul the cuts over the finish line themselves.
"These are their ideas. If they're such good ideas, they can defend them and put up the votes for them," she said.
"I don't see why any Democrat, from what we've been hearing, would be supportive of the direction that President Trump wants to take the country."
Some key Republicans have also come out against the early contours of Trump's budget plan, which would institute a $54 billion cut to domestic programs to pay for an equal increase in defense spending. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Tuesday called that proposal "dead on arrival" in Congress.
A few GOP appropriators, too, seem uneasy about slashing the EPA's budget when the agency has absorbed sizable spending cuts over the last six years.
"I'd like to look and see what actually gets out of committee," Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said.
"EPA has been cut by over 20 percent in the last few years. The discretionary budget has been lowered pretty dramatically compared to how it was in 2009, and it's under what [Speaker] Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) thought it would be in his budget."
Though they've often trimmed the EPA's annual budget, many Republicans have previously balked at the idea of slashing the agency's spending all at once: fifty-six Republicans last year voted against a floor amendment to cut the agency by 17 percent.
"If they're trying to get rid of the regulatory regime and a few things like that, you could probably make some cuts," Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) said of Trump's plan.
But, he said, "I don't know if they can be as big as what they're talking about."