House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) took credit Wednesday morning for cutting the number of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) employees, saying Republican leaders negotiated an omnibus budget deal Sunday night that would reduce the EPA employee count to 1989 levels.
“We reduced the EPA staffing levels to pre-Obama, back to 1989. So we knocked the staff down to what we had in 1989,” Ryan told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.
The problem with Ryan’s statement is that the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee’s own summary of the budget deal clearly shows it isn’t true. The negotiations resulted in “holding the EPA to the current capacity of 15,000 positions,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ)’s office stated in its fiscal year 2017 omnibus budget summary.
The Trump administration has vowed repeatedly to make major cuts to the EPA, but with the agency emerging temporarily unscathed in the new agreement, Republicans have been scrambling to characterize it as a win.
The EPA employees who will supposedly lose their jobs under the omnibus budget agreement — at least in the House speaker’s telling— “are the people who I would argue are kicking out regulations that are harmful to the economy,” Ryan told Hewitt.
But contrary to Ryan’s statements, the staffing levels negotiated as part of the budget agreement existed during President Barack Obama’s presidency. In fact, it was Obama, more than two years ago, who signed an FY 2015 spending bill that cut the EPA’s staff to its lowest levels since 1989.
In 2014, Republican leaders put EPA staffing levels in their crosshairs, which led to the number of employees dropping to about 15,000 full-time employees. That was two years ago. The current budget agreement, if passed by Congress and signed by Trump, would not reduce EPA staffing levels to 1989 levels because the agency’s ranks were already at that level.
Ryan’s misleading depiction of the current budget deal doesn’t mean the EPA is protected from staffing cuts in the future. Under Trump’s proposed “skinny budget,” the EPA faces the deepest cuts of any agency, with a proposal to slash its budget 31 percent. Reports have abounded that the massive cuts could partly be achieved through the closure of two EPA regional offices. The Chicago Region 5 office has been identified as one of the targeted offices, while the other office has not been announced or leaked by the administration.
In his conversation with Hewitt, Ryan also appeared confused about which government agency funds the Green Climate Fund. When discussing the EPA, Ryan told the conservative radio host: “We defund, we zero out the Green Climate Fund, knock the employment levels back to 1989 levels.”
The omnibus budget agreement indeed includes no money for the Green Climate Fund, the international fund to help developing nations prepare for climate change. But funding for the climate fund comes out of the U.S. Department of State’s budget, not the EPA’s.
Since October 1, the federal government has been operating under a continuing resolution that froze 2017 spending at most agencies at FY 2016 levels. Congress will need to clear the spending package before current appropriations under a continuing resolution expire at midnight on Friday; Trump has indicated he will sign the FY 2017 appropriations bill.