Trump’s EPA budget cuts hit strong opposition at House panel

Trump’s EPA budget cuts hit strong opposition at House panel
© Greg Nash

House lawmakers repeatedly told the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that many of the Trump administration’s proposed cuts for that agency will not fly.

Members of both parties identified major problems they had with the proposed 30 percent cut to the EPA’s budget and pressed Administrator Scott Pruitt to defend them.

The chilly reception Thursday at the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee that oversees the EPA’s spending solidifies the long-brewing view among lawmakers that a 30 percent cut to the agency’s budget of roughly $8 billion is untenable.

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“In many instances, the budget proposes to significantly reduce or terminate programs that are vitally important to each member on this subcommittee,” Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), the subcommittee’s chairman, told Pruitt at the hearing.

Calvert pointed to proposals like eliminating a local air quality grant program, slashing a program to reduce diesel emissions and big cuts to the Superfund budget as areas he disagrees with.

“These are all proposals that we are unlikely to entertain,” he said. “This is perhaps not how you personally would craft the EPA’s budget, but it’s the budget you have to defend here today.”

The EPA saw the biggest cut of any agency in Trump’s first budget proposal, which seeks funding for fiscal 2018.

The reductions are part of a $54 billion cut to nondefense discretionary spending that Trump wants in order to add the same amount of money to defense and security programs.

While the GOP has years of pent-up anger against the EPA for what it saw as overreach under former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaAll five living former presidents to attend hurricane relief concert Overnight Health Care: Schumer calls for tying ObamaCare fix to children's health insurance | Puerto Rico's water woes worsen | Dems plead for nursing home residents' right to sue Interior moves to delay Obama’s methane leak rule MORE, Republicans don’t want to punish the agency with the kind of cuts Trump has envisioned.

Calvert’s colleagues on both sides of the aisle piled on his criticisms.

“The budget that you have come before us today to support would endanger the health of millions of Americans, jeopardize the quality of our air and water and wreak havoc on our economy,” said top subcommittee Democrat Betty McCollum (Minn.), saying that the EPA’s budget would be its lowest since 1990.

“Between your disturbingly close ties to the oil and gas industries, your past work to directly undermine the EPA and your skepticism that human activity plays a role in climate change, I suppose it’s surprising you didn’t propose to eliminate the agency altogether,” said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), ranking member of the full Appropriations Committee.

“Let’s be clear: Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, scientists, business leaders and the vast majority of Americans agree, man-made climate change is real and it poses a threat to our planet that must be confronted quickly and seriously.”

Of particular concern to multiple lawmakers were cuts to Superfund and regional water cleanup programs for the Great Lakes, Puget Sound and other major water bodies.

“The Mulvaney budget, if enacted, would cripple our collective efforts, halt the progress we are making and undermine the investments that we are making today,” Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio) said of the elimination of funding for Great Lakes cleanup. He made it a point to name the budget after White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, a House member up until earlier this year.

Pruitt defended the budget, saying the proposed cuts would still allow the EPA to carry out its “core” missions.

“I believe that we can fulfill the mission of our agency with a trimmed budget, with proper leadership and management,” he told lawmakers.

“We will continue to focus on our core missions and responsibilities, working cooperatively with the states to improve air, water and land.”

In response to most concerns about programs that lawmakers want to keep, Pruitt promised to work with them on it.

For example, he told Lowey that a research program on endocrine-disrupting chemicals — which he proposed to eliminate — could be moved to another office.

“This is our approach presently, but we look forward to your input on how, maybe, this can be restored, and/or addressed in a different way,” he said.

Pruitt said he and the agency recognize the “importance” of regional cleanup programs like those for the Long Island Sound and Great Lakes.

He promised to work with lawmakers on their concerns about eliminating those efforts. But he also said that the EPA can continue to coordinate cleanups without spending money.

“Obviously, money is important. But this leadership role is important as well, and it’s going to continue,” he said.

Multiple lawmakers told Pruitt that he is nearly certain to get more money for the EPA than he asked for.

“I can assure you you’re going to be the first EPA administrator that’s come before this committee in eight years that actually gets more money than they asked for,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R), an Oklahoman who has worked closely for two decades with Pruitt, the former attorney general of the state.

“That doesn’t mean you’ll get as much as you’ve had, but you’ll get more than you asked for,” Cole continued.

“It’s important to note that Congress has cut the agency quite a bit before you got there, and quite a bit recently, in relative terms,” said Rep. Mark AmodeiMark Eugene AmodeiOvernight Finance: House passes .2T funding package for 2018 | FTC launches Equifax probe | Mnuchin defends honeymoon jet request | House scraps measure to boost credit union regulator oversight Trump’s EPA budget cuts hit strong opposition at House panel MORE (R-Nev.). “So, speaking only for myself, I would expect to take those cuts into account and echo my colleagues’ sentiments about how you may be the first person to get more than you asked for.”