What the EPA budget cuts mean for North American environmental politics

12 April 2017, 1010 EDT

The negative impact of President Trump’s recent actions to de-fund many Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) programs goes beyond withdrawing support from climate adaptation and mitigation initiatives, and rollbacks on environmental regulations. These budget cuts will potentially hinder the cumulative (and positive) work that the Commission for Environmental Cooperation of North America (CEC) has already done for the past 23 years to improve the North American environment.

Founded in 1994 as one outcome of the side agreement on environmental cooperation to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the CEC’s Secretariat is hosted in Montreal (Canada), but it is staffed by citizens from all three North American countries, and its Executive Director leadership is rotated among all three countries as well.

The EPA had traditionally supported the CEC’s work, including a relatively recent shift in policy priorities within the CEC, away from chemicals management and more focused on clean energy, climate adaptation and emissions’ reduction, and waste trading among the North American nations. Funding for the CEC activities comes from a pool obtained by an equal financial contribution by the United States of America, Canada and Mexico. However, budget cuts announced by President Trump for the EPA make it quite likely that funding for the CEC will be either withdrawn or drastically reduced. President Trump has made his dislike for NAFTA quite clear, although his reported proposals for NAFTA reform would appear to support improvements to the CEC’s environmental mandate.  Nevertheless, improving compliance with environmental regulations in each of the three countries necessitates MORE, not less funding!

Defunding the EPA to the extent that is being reported will also have an impact on whether or not the US will be able and willing to honor its commitment to sustain its contribution to the CEC’s budget. Cutting the US’ contribution to the CEC would not only send a damaging message to other countries who may see intergovernmental environmental secretariats as irrelevant, but also continue reifying the notion that environmental regulation is a nuisance that hinders job creation.

This (already debunked) idea has also been peddled by the Trump administration: that “coal and other manufacturing jobs will be back if we only reduce environmental regulations. Ironically, it was a very strong push by US environmental activists that led to the creation of the environmental side agreement to NAFTA. These organizations voiced a real concern  about industry flight and the creation of pollution havens, where environmental regulation would be so lax that industries would be willing to relocate to those countries. Civil society groups actively lobbied for, and succeeded in pushing for the creation of environmental provisions within NAFTA.  Now the current US government appears to be actively facilitating the dismantling of an international organization that emerged partly as the result of strong and vocal environmental activism by US citizens.