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WASHINGTON, March 16 (Reuters) - President Donald Trump's administration is proposing a 31 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency's budget, eliminating its climate change programs and trimming back core initiatives aimed at protecting air and water quality, according to budget documents released on Thursday.
The White House's proposed 2018 budget for the agency comes as Trump seeks to clear away regulations he claims are hobbling U.S. businesses - like oil drillers and coal miners. The proposed cuts are a starting point in negotiations with Congress, and could be tempered.
The proposal would eliminate 3,200 EPA employees, or 19 percent of the current workforce, and effectively erase former President Barack Obama's initiatives to combat climate change by cutting funding for the agency's signature Clean Power Plan aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
It would also eliminate climate change research and international climate change programs. Together, the cuts to climate change initiatives at the agency would eliminate some $100 million in spending.
"Consistent with the President's America First Energy Plan, the budget reorients the EPA's air program to protect the air we breathe without unduly burdening the American economy," a summary of the agency's proposed budget said.
Trump has expressed doubts about the science of climate change and has said the United States can reduce green regulation drastically without compromising air and water quality.
But the proposed EPA budget cuts would extend well beyond climate change. It would cut some $427 million to regional pollution cleanup programs, including in the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay. Funding for the Superfund program to clean up the nation's most contaminated sites would drop by $330 million to $762 million.
The budget summary said the rationale for the changes is to give local and state governments - often facing severe budget constraints themselves - responsibility for such clean-up efforts.
Trump's proposal would also cut the budget for the EPA's enforcement division, which fines companies for pollution, by 31 percent. It would axe dozens of other programs including the popular Energy Star appliance efficiency program aimed at reducing U.S. energy consumption.
One area that would see a small boost is for State Revolving Funds, low-interest loans for investments in water and sanitation infrastructure. The budget would add $4 million to the funds, bringing its budget up to $100 million. (Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Leslie Adler)