EPA chief emphasizes staffing, environmental justice in Appropriations testimony
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan 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 Merkley (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.”
“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 Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Sen. Martin Heinrich (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.