Environment, Trump Administration

“This request is a disaster”: House committee grills EPA’s Scott Pruitt over Trump budget

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt defended President Trump’s deep cuts to the agency’s budget at a House Appropriations Committee hearing (Screenshot: www.house.gov)

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt faced a largely hostile House Appropriations Committee last week, which over two hours, grilled him over an anemic agency budget, proposed by President Trump.

“This budget request is a disaster,” said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-New York).

Trump’s budget reduces overall funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by a third — $2.4 billion — from last year’s levels. When accounting for inflation, this is the lowest EPA proposal in 40 years. The budget proposal eliminates 3,800 jobs and 47 programs, including radon protection, endocrine disruptor research, and Energy Star, which has saved customers $430 billion on their utility bills since 1992.

The president’s budget and policy decisions, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minnesota), said, “indicate Trump’s contempt for science.” The proposal slashes the budget for core projects such as Superfund (31 percent) and diesel emissions reduction grants (83 percent), climate change programs (91 percent) and scientific research (46 percent).

Rep. Betty McCollum: Through the EPA budget “the Trump administration has shown its contempt for science.” (Screenshot: www.house.gov)

These cuts could reduce the work done in North Carolina: The state has nearly 40 Superfund sites; more than $1.5 million in diesel grants have been awarded since 2013. The EPA office in Research Triangle Park employees more than 2,000 federal workers and contract employees.

I can't allow harm to be done to the American people that this budget would inflict Click To Tweet

“President Trump can propose this destructive budget and Mr. Pruitt can defend or promote it, “McCollum added. “But Congress and this committee determine funding. I won’t support a budget below 2017 levels. I cannot allow the harm to be done to the American people that this budget would inflict.”

Many Republicans were likewise concerned about how their respective districts would suffer from such a hollowing out of the agency. “In many instances, the budget proposes to significantly reduce or terminate programs that are vitally important to each member on this committee,” said Ken Calvert (R-California).

Pruitt, who as attorney general of Oklahoma, sued the EPA dozens of times and has close ties to the fossil fuel industry, defended the budget. He asserted that the EPA can “fulfill our mission with a trim budget with proper leadership and management.”

The EPA would reduce its workforce by 3,800 people. Pruitt said this would be achieved through “attrition, a hiring freeze and voluntary buyouts.” Twenty percent of EPA workers are eligible for retirement, although forcing out experienced employees could leave large gaps in the agency’s institutional memory and scientific expertise.

Pruitt insinuated that the cuts would come primarily from EPA headquarters, where about half the workforce is located. “Your want EPA offices throughout the country, working with the states,” he said.

The budget, he said, is sufficient to support the EPA’s core principles of “the rule of law, process and respect for the role of the states.” Pruitt was referring to the controversial Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the United States, which were not passed by Congress but a product of EPA rulemaking. His remarks about the states pointed to the agency’s plan to delegate more authority to them — albeit without sufficient federal funding — with the EPA intervening only if absolutely necessary.

“I’m baffled about how you’re going to have the tools to do that,” McCollum said. “I can wish for a lot of things. But how do I make those things happen with real dollars and real employees.”

The budget hearing occurred shortly after Trump announced that the US would withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. Rep. Lowey  noted that climate change programs within the EPA would be essentially eliminated under the proposal. “Your budget shows a willful ignorance to the threat that climate change poses,” Lowey said. “We have a moral responsibility to safeguard our planet. This budget would fall short on that obligation.”

 

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