Photographer: Brennan Linsley/AP Photo

Lawmakers Vow to Stop Trump's EPA Cuts

  • Environmental Protection Agency budget facing 31 percent cut
  • Lawmakers tell EPA’s Pruitt proposed cuts won’t survive

President Donald Trump’s plan to slash spending on the Environmental Protection Agency was blasted by lawmakers, as Republicans and Democrats took turns telling the agency’s head that proposed budget cuts were unlikely to survive in Congress.

"These are all proposals we are unlikely to retain," said Representative Ken Calvert, the Republican chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee in charge of the agency’s budget.

The criticism of EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt at a budget hearing Thursday illustrates the difficulty Trump will have enacting his proposed spending plan for fiscal 2018. His blueprint calls for spending $54 billion more on defense and offsetting the increase with steep cuts to nearly every other agency -- including 18 percent from the Department of Health and Human Services, 28 percent from the State Department and 21 percent from the Labor Department.

The EPA faces some of the steepest cuts: a 31 percent reduction that would result in 3,200 employees being culled from the agency’s 15,000-member workforce.

Lawmakers were not impressed. 

Representative Tom Cole, a Republican from Oklahoma, offered mock congratulations to Pruitt: "You’re going to be the first EPA administrator that has come before this committee in eight years that actually gets more money than they ask for."

"At the end of the day, Congress will make the decision, and I think you’re going to do better than you asked for," he added.

Read More: Trump Budget Slashes Climate Spending as ‘Crazy Stuff’ Dropped

For years, Republican lawmakers have aimed to whittle spending at the agency. But that was under the previous Democratic administration, when former President Barack Obama turned to the EPA to impose broad environmental and climate regulations in the absence of explicit action from Congress.

Now, Trump and Pruitt are aiming to rescind or rework those regulations and downplay the adoption of new rules. While many Republicans broadly share those goals, they also object to some of the budget’s specific cuts, especially plans to eliminate programs that help restore waterways, including the Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes, Puget Sound and Long Island Sound.

Pruitt defended the administration’s approach, arguing the budget request "significantly reduces or eliminates funding for mature programs that no longer need a federal presence or can be implemented by others."

But Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen, the Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, suggested the proposed cuts go too far -- even for frequent EPA critics. He echoed other lawmakers in singling out the Trump administration’s proposal to cut the Superfund program, which helps clean up toxic sites, by about a third.

Read More: Trump Budget Plan Would Slice EPA Spending by Nearly a Third

"I share at times some of the animus that is aimed at your agency," Frelinghuysen told Pruitt. "But I also come from the nation’s most densely populated state, New Jersey," which has "more Superfund sites than any other state in the nation."

An association of solid waste management officials has warned that if Trump’s proposed budget cuts are enacted, cleanup work could stop at hundreds of Superfund sites.

Pruitt said Superfund "is absolutely a priority," and said he would boost the program’s "accountability." Many projects have languished on a national priority list for decades without "direction, leadership, and, in some cases, answers for how we’re going to remediate sites," he said.

Separately, he vowed to streamline permitting and pare the time required for environmental reviews of infrastructure projects. And he reiterated previous pledges to work collaboratively with states and tribal governments "to provide the environmental protection that our laws demand and that the American people deserve."

Representative Derek Kilmer, a Democrat from Washington, said states would fare worse under the administration’s plan. 

“It is important that the federal government not leave states holding the bag," Kilmer said. "I don’t know how we can expect states to take on more of your agency’s obligations with less money."

Even if the Republican-led Congress restores some funding for EPA, it would be short changed, Gina McCarthy, the EPA head under Obama, said in an interview Wednesday. “Congress could very well claim success by doing half of what’s proposed — and half of what’s proposed would be devastating."

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