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Democrats say new EPA office requires congressional approval

Democrats say new EPA office requires congressional approval
© Bonnie Cash

Two Democratic lawmakers are raising concerns about a recent move by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to create a Colorado office that deals with issues relating to Western lands such as waste cleanup from mining.

Rep. Betty McCollumBetty Louise McCollumProgressives ramp up scrutiny of US funding for Israel Overnight Defense: Groups use Afghanistan withdrawal to push for defense budget cuts | Confederate renaming effort could affect 'hundreds' of military assets | Progressives see 'historic' moment to shift US-Israel relations Groups urge Congress to use Afghanistan withdrawal to cut defense budget MORE (Minn.) and Sen. Tom UdallTom UdallSenate Democrats befuddled by Joe Manchin Study: Chemical used in paint thinners caused more deaths than EPA identified Oregon senator takes center stage in Democratic filibuster debate MORE (N.M.) said in a letter to the agency Wednesday that the establishment of the new office would need to first be reviewed by the House and Senate Appropriations committees.

“The Further Consolidated Appropriations Act ... requires the advance approval by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees prior to the implementation of any Agency reorganizations or reprogrammings of funds,” the lawmakers wrote.

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“This reorganization is a significant departure from how hard rock mining remediation is currently handled at the Agency and therefore must first be evaluated by the Appropriations Committees,” they added.

McCollum is chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee dealing with the Department of the Interior and the environment, and Udall is the ranking member on the comparable Senate subcommittee.

The EPA on Wednesday announced it was creating an Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains, based in Lakewood, Colo., to deal with the environmental impacts of hard rock mining.

EPA Associate Deputy Administrator Doug Benevento said the office would help the agency tackle issues related to cleaning up hazardous waste at large mining sites.

“Superfund was designed to address Eastern sites that are smaller and more compact. What this office will do is it will bring a focus on how to address those larger sites,” he said.

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He also said the agency was “moving decisionmaking out of D.C. into the West for issues that are uniquely important to the West.”

The office is the latest move by the Trump administration to increase its presence in the West, particularly on environmental issues. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently changed the location of its headquarters from Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction, Colo., though unlike the new EPA office, the BLM move required agency staff to relocate.

McCollum and Udall, in their letter to EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy: EPA to reconsider Trump decision not to tighten soot standards | Interior proposes withdrawal of Trump rule that would allow drillers to pay less | EPA reverses Trump guidance it said weakened 'forever chemicals' regulations EPA to reconsider Trump decision not to tighten soot air quality standards EPA to revise Trump rule limiting state authority to block pipelines MORE, urged the agency to suspend its efforts so that their committees can review the action.

“As required by law and established by longstanding precedent of comity among our Committees and the Agency, we expect you to comply with the requirements laid out in the fiscal year 2020 appropriations for the Agency and to suspend the implementation of this reorganization pending our Committees’ review and approval,” they wrote. 

EPA spokesperson Molly Block said in a statement to The Hill that the agency “followed Congressional notification requirements.” She did not specify how it did so.

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“It’s unfortunate Democratic committee leadership doesn’t support finding solutions to longstanding western-lands cross-cutting issues and expediting the remediation of abandoned mine lands across the country,” the statement said.

The Democrats said that they received notification on Wednesday, the day the agency announced the office to the public, about the plans to create it.

Benevento told reporters Wednesday that the office is already up and running and that the agency would use “existing funds” for the office and wouldn’t need to ask Congress for any additional money.