EPA head faces skeptical senators on budget cuts

EPA head faces skeptical senators on budget cuts
© Getty Images

Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt on Tuesday faced senators skeptical of the agency’s proposed steep budget cuts.

Senators from both parties voiced concerns with at least some parts of the Trump administration’s proposed $5.65 billion budget for the EPA for next year, a cut of about 30 percent below this current funding level.

Pruitt faced repeated pressure to defend slashes to programs that enjoy wide support among lawmakers, such as Superfund and air quality grants.

ADVERTISEMENT
“The budget request before us today is downright offensive,” said Sen. Tom UdallTom UdallFCC chair: Trump hasn't tried to intervene on Time Warner merger Overnight Finance: GOP divided over welfare cuts in budget | Lawmaker loses M on pharma stock he pitched | Yellen says another financial crisis unlikely in our lifetimes Overnight Regulation: EPA moves to repeal Obama water rule | Labor chief to review overtime rule | Record fine for Google MORE (N.M.), the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee’s subpanel with authority over the EPA’s finances.

Udall took particular issue with big cuts to research, enforcement, Superfund and environmental justice, among other programs.

“I can’t square this with your rhetoric about returning EPA to its core responsibilities,” Udall said. “Nothing was spared. EPA’s core is hollowed out. Let’s not pretend that the agency hasn’t already sustained cuts and already been working hard to do more with less.”

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiPro-ObamaCare group targets key senators in new ads The GOP Wonder Women who saved healthcare for 22 million Senate heads to new healthcare vote with no clear plan MORE (R-Alaska), the panel’s chairwoman, was less negative, but still not ready to rubber-stamp the Trump administration’s proposal.

“Given that the subcommittee has already reduced spending at the agency, I don’t believe that we can achieve the level of budget cuts proposed in the [fiscal year 2018] budget and effectively move forward with the ‘Back to Basics’ approach that I do support,” Murkowski said, referring to Pruitt’s agenda for the EPA.

“And some of the proposed reductions and eliminations in the budget are in direct contrast to that ‘Back to Basics’ approach,” she said.

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahySenate committee ignores Trump, House budgets in favor of 2017 funding levels Live coverage: Trump's FBI nominee questioned by senators AT&T, senators spar over customers' right to sue MORE (Vt.), the top Democrat on the full Appropriations Committee, called the proposal “the worst I’ve seen,” and asked if it is the Trump administration’s goal to “dismantle the agency” within Trump’s first presidential term.

Pruitt assured Leahy that he supports the EPA’s existence.

The senators’ criticisms come less than two weeks after their counterparts in the House Appropriations Committee held their own hearing on Pruitt’s budget proposal, and were similarly critical, agreeing that many of the cuts are unlikely to be enacted.

Pruitt largely defended the budget submission, although he said he would be open to senators who wanted to restore some funding.

“I believe that we can fulfill the mission of our agency with a trim budget, through proper leadership and management. We will work with Congress to help focus on national priorities with respect to the resources that you provide,” Pruitt said.

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

On some widely popular programs such as Superfund, cleans up hazardous waste, and regional cleanup programs for major water bodies like the Chesapeake Bay, Pruitt was more deferential to lawmakers.

“There’s much work through management and leadership, Madam Chair, that I think will go a long ways towards improving outcomes in air, water and land issues,” Pruitt told Murkowski about Superfund.

“Obviously, money matters. And I will let you know and advise you that as we get into the Superfund program ... if there’s not enough money in the budget address those, I will advise you.”

Pruitt told the senators that if they chose to increase funding for programs like water body cleanups, he would spend the money.

“As we go through this process, if this committee chooses to restore that funding, then that’s something, obviously, that we’re going to implement and carry out our responsibilities,” he told Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) about the Chesapeake Bay program, which, like other regional water programs, was proposed to be defunded entirely.