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EPA chief emphasizes staffing, environmental justice in Appropriations testimony

EPA chief emphasizes staffing, environmental justice in Appropriations testimony
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Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael ReganMichael ReganOVERNIGHT ENERGY:  EPA announces new clean air advisors after firing Trump appointees |  Senate confirms Biden pick for No. 2 role at Interior | Watchdog: Bureau of Land Management saw messaging failures, understaffing during pandemic EPA announces new clean air advisors after firing Trump appointees EPA to reconsider Trump decision not to tighten soot air quality standards MORE addressed the agency’s fiscal 2022 budget request Wednesday before the Senate Appropriations Committee, focusing on depleted staffing and calls for improvements to water infrastructure.

Committee Chairman Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyDemocrats scramble to unify before election bill brawl Schumer vows to only pass infrastructure package that is 'a strong, bold climate bill' Joe Manchin keeps Democrats guessing on sweeping election bill MORE (D-Ore.) told Regan he likes “the values I see in this budget,” adding, “I stand ready to help the administration provide the resources we need to tackle these really important challenges.”

Regan told the panel the agency was asking for an increase of just over 1,000 employees, which he said were “the numbers we believe we need to focus on providing the appropriate research, the analytical capabilities to inform our regulations.”

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“With this increase we will still have a significantly reduced workforce,” he added. “What we hope to do with this thousand employees is replenish the capacity we’ve lost, but also build the capacity that we need for future activities to protect our air, water and land.”

Regan also addressed the budget request’s provisions on environmental justice, which he said “underpins all of our work.”

“The pandemic ignited a perfect storm for communities of color and low-income communities who already bear the highest burdens of pollution,” Regan said. “The budget invests $936 million toward ... accelerating environmental and economic justice initiatives for efforts across the agency that will help create jobs, clean up pollution and secure environmental justice for communities who have been left behind far too often.”

Both committee ranking member Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiPortman: Republicans are 'absolutely' committed to bipartisan infrastructure bill Democrats facing tough reelections back bipartisan infrastructure deal Centrists gain foothold in infrastructure talks; cyber attacks at center of Biden-Putin meeting MORE (R-Alaska) and Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichSchumer vows to only pass infrastructure package that is 'a strong, bold climate bill' FBI warns lawmakers of violence from QAnon conspiracy theorists Overnight Energy: Company officially nixes Keystone XL pipeline | Government watchdog finds failings, but no Trump influence, in clearing of Lafayette Square MORE (D-N.M.) discussed the Waters of the United States Rule, with Murkowski saying the Obama administration’s version had been overly broad and risked a “level of review that most would say is beyond belief.”

“We are evaluating the path forward because we believe we’ve got some lessons learned from previous actions,” Regan replied. “We look at some of the complexities that you referenced and many have referenced in the Obama rule, we’re looking at what some believe to be an abdication of responsibility for water quality protection in the current rule” implemented under the Trump administration.

Heinrich, meanwhile, decried the current rule, calling it “horribly written” and urging Regan to “revisit it as soon as possible.”

The Biden administration has requested $11.2 billion for fiscal 2022 for the EPA.