Approving an annual federal government budget is a multistep process involving the president and Congress and, in a less direct manner, interest groups and the constituencies they represent. Historically, a copious amount of negotiating and compromising takes place before a budget passes both houses of Congress and is signed by the president.
President Donald Trump has taken the first step toward the creation of the 2018 federal budget, and as of late March 2017 the reactions of elected officials and interest groups alike have been laying the groundwork for the lengthy negotiation process that likely lies ahead.
Several aspects of the Trump budget reflect the often-espoused Republican Party philosophy for government to “stay out of the way” of business owners, with several federal agencies targeted for significant funding cuts likely to affect their ability to enforce regulations that stay in place.
Along with his budget priorities, the Trump Administration and allies in Congress likewise have targeted certain Obama Administration regulatory rules and existing legislation for immediate or proposed rollback or repeal. Many have been addressed via executive orders.
MORE THAN A LITTLE OFF THE TOP
Among the funding cuts in the proposed Trump budget: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by 31 percent and the Department of Labor by 21 percent (or $2.5 billion), including targeted Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training programs.
Trade groups involved in the construction and demolition industries have at times expressed frustration with the growing power of OSHA during the Obama presidency. In one recent case, the Arlington, Virginia-based Associated General Contractors (AGC) expressed its support in mid-March 2017 for an effort in the Senate to roll back one particular OSHA procedural change.
According to AGC, the Senate has begun taking steps to repeal a rule that extends the statute of limitations on OSHA recordkeeping violations from six months to five-and-a-half years. AGC says the December 2016 rule “exposes business owners to unfair liability for honest and inadvertent paperwork mistakes related to recordkeeping.”
AGC says the rule “does not improve the safety or health of workers,” and that the House of Representatives passed its version of legislation to repeal the rule on March 1, 2017.
Another Obama Administration rule that has been an early target of the Republican Party is the “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” rule.
The AGC and the Washington-based Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. (ABC) both took to calling the act the “blacklisting rule.” The rule required general contractors and subcontractors to report violations of 14 federal labor laws before and during the carrying out of federal contracts exceeding $500,000 in value.
Labor union-related requirements on federal contracts are the target of Congressional repeal of an Obama-era executive order or rule. The introduction of the “Fair and Open Competition Act” (H.R. 1552) in the House in mid-March has been praised by ABC as a way to “create a level playing field where more qualified contractors will compete for public construction contracts because the government cannot encourage or prohibit project labor agreements (PLAs).”
Labor unions such as the Washington-based Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) typically oppose such “right to work” laws designed to eliminate union wage scale preferences in the contracting sector.
In early 2017, LIUNA expressed its opposition to a similar law taking effect in Missouri. “By passing ‘Right to Work’ legislation, which Missouri Governor Greitens is poised to sign, Missouri lawmakers have done nothing more than to slash wages, reduce benefits, and worsen working conditions for the very blue collar workers that have demanded change and a stronger middle-class in the last election,” said LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan in February 2017.
THE 411 ON THE EPA
The proposed budget cuts to the EPA authored by the Trump Administration could affect demolition contractors and recyclers in several ways.
The EPA is operating with an $8.2 billion budget in 2017 while Trump’s proposal calls for a $5.7 billion budget (down by 31 percent) in 2018.
Contractors or recyclers who have been stung by what they believe to be overzealous EPA enforcement may welcome a less well-funded agency. According to the Reuters news agency, the proposed 2018 budget would “reduce funding for enforcing pollution laws by 11 percent, to $153 million.”
The EPA also funds or organizes a number of activities involving site remediation (demolition) and support for emerging recycling markets.
On the demolition side, the proposed 2018 budget would reduce funding for the EPA Brownfields cleanup program by more than 40 percent, to $14.7 million, according to Reuters.
Troy Lautenbach, the president of Mount Vernon, Washington-based Lautenbach Recycling and also current president of the Construction and Demolition Recycling Association (CDRA), says the EPA “can exert a strong influence on C&D recycling, such as when it exempted C&D biomass from the onerous Non-Hazardous Secondary Materials rule.”
In a case like that, when EPA staff members helped keep a C&D end market viable, “Our industry concern would be that a smaller federal EPA will not have the resources to handle the legwork necessary to do work like that,” adds Lautenbach. “The timing in getting input and decisions from EPA has also historically been challenging. With a third less staff, this situation would undoubtedly get even worse.”
Jason Haus of Shakopee, Minnesota-based Dem-Con Cos., who has been involved in governance with both the CDRA and the National Demolition Association, says the culture or philosophy at the EPA (when administrations change) may be more important than the size of the agency.
“Historically, the agency has formed working groups to address the movement of materials up the value chain and work with industry to develop initiatives and plans that foster better management and the use of previously unused and discarded materials,” says Haus.
More recently, says Haus, the EPA as it relates to the demolition and recycling industries has “moved away from collaborative working groups, dropping those initiatives, and worked more on highly regulatory [initiatives] that are potentially damaging to the industry with little or no proven benefits [from] the increase in regulation.”
Haus cited the Non-Hazardous Secondary Materials Rule and silica dust-related issues as recent examples that entailed “a lot of time and effort from both the agency and industry for no real measurable environmental or health and human safety improvements.” He adds, “If a small EPA means a more focused approach on collaborative working relationships, reinvigorating the working groups of the past, I am in favor of that.”
Regarding Brownfields-related funding cuts, Haus remarks, “If the Brownfield program is curtailed, I believe the states will have to increase their involvement to keep these redevelopments moving. The challenge is that most states already seem too taxed on the time they have available.”
As of late March, it was unclear what direct impacts the proposed Trump budget would have on solid waste and recycling support, but an overall 31 percent funding reduction is unlikely to keep it unscathed.
Pointing to the lengthy and negotiation-filled nature of the budget process, Lautenbach adds, “It looks doubtful Congress will go along with the full 31 percent reduction in the EPA budget, which would be an unprecedented level of cuts.”