EPA chief doubles down on Trump's commitment to fully fund Great Lakes program

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler confirmed Tuesday that the agency is no longer looking to strip a beloved Great Lakes program of nearly 90 percent of its funding — a promise first made by President TrumpDonald John TrumpWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio Democrats debate in Ohio: Who came out on top? MORE last week.

Speaking to House lawmakers at a hearing on the EPA’s proposed 2020 budget, Wheeler confirmed that the agency supported Trump’s promise to restore full funding to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

“I believe I am the only EPA administrator in the history of the agency to go swimming in the Great Lakes,” Wheeler told the lawmakers.

“I love the Great Lakes and completely agreed with President Trump last week when he announced we would fully fund the Great Lakes initiative.”

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Trump first announced at a rally in Michigan last week that he would make sure the Great Lakes program, which provides money toward clean up efforts, would keep its $300 million funding.

“I support the Great Lakes. Always have. They’re beautiful. They’re big. Very deep. Record deepness, right? And I’m going to get, in honor of my friends, full funding of $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which you’ve been trying to get for over 30 years. So we’ll get it done,” Trump said.

The claim ran counter to the White House’s proposed 2020 budget for the EPA submitted to Congress in February. That budget suggested a 90 percent cut to the initiative.

Both Republican and House lawmakers berated Wheeler on Tuesday over the initial proposed cut.

“President Trump got a big round of applause at the Michigan rally but that doesn’t ignore that he’s cut funding for the great lakes,” said Rep. Betty McCollumBetty Louise McCollumDeLauro enters race to succeed Lowey as Appropriations chief Trump impeachment calls snowball, putting pressure on Pelosi Leave park operations — and fee revenues — to the parks MORE (D-Minn.), chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies.

“It remains of utmost importance to protect them for future generations," said Rep. David JoyceDavid Patrick JoyceKeeping your national parks accessible even during a government shutdown Marijuana industry donations to lawmakers surge in 2019: analysis The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump issues Taliban warning at Sept. 11 memorial MORE (R-Ohio). “The reduction falls well short of the necessary funding level to achieve those ends.”

Wheeler, however, said keeping the funding was something the agency takes “very seriously.”

“We’re taking this very seriously and it’s a lot of effort, time and resources in addition to the $300 million for the Great Lakes initiative," Wheeler said.

Lawmakers hounded the agency head over a third year of suggested steep cuts to the agency. The budget submitted by the White House for 2020 would slash the agency’s budget by more than 30 percent if enacted.

“You again propose to eliminate programs that are important to our environment and in the wrong direction,” said Rep. Nina Lowey (D-N.Y.).

“These cuts send a clear message about the agency’s priorities to put polluter interests above public health. We have grown to expect this from the Trump administration sadly over the past two years.”

Yet Wheeler defended the suggested budget cuts as necessary to establish the president’s goal of shrinking government. He said the cuts to programs showed the agency was being creative with its funding.

“We’re trying to be very creative with what we are doing with the budget, in today’s world where we are trying to tighten our belts across the board,” he said.

Additionally, he boasted of a number of the EPA’s deregulatory actions taken under Trump, listing the finalization of 38 deregulatory actions so far that are “saving Americans more than $3 billion on regulatory costs.”

He said an additional 39 actions were in development.