EPA’s Pruitt defends Trump budget on Capitol Hill

EPA’s Pruitt defends Trump budget on Capitol Hill
June 18, 2017 Gary Wilson
Pruitt image from C-SPAN

Ohio Reps extend invitation for Lake Erie visit

photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia

Scott Pruitt speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference, courtesy of Gage Skidmore

The Trump administration’s effort to sell its proposed U.S. EPA budget to congress continued this week as administrator Scott Pruitt hit Capitol Hill to testify before a House appropriations subcommittee.

Direct exchange with little partisan sniping was the order of the day,  but committee chair Rep. Jim Calvert, a Republican from California set the bar that Pruitt must clear.

Calvert told Pruitt the committee was unlikely to sustain Trump’s EPA budget cuts and while the budget may not have been crafted by Pruitt, the cuts “were his to defend.” Calvert’s comment refers to the general belief that the budget cuts are deeper than Pruitt wanted.

Calvert then turned the mic over to Betsy McCollum, a Democrat from Minnesota who is the Ranking Member.

McCollum was direct saying the Trump budget “abandons the EPA’s responsibility to the American people by proposing a $2.4 billion cut” to the agency.

She then challenged the zeroing out of budgets for the Great Lakes and other waterways saying they are “economic generators for local communities” in addition to restoring the environment.

“Back to basics”

In his opening remarks Pruitt repeated what are now familiar points on the EPA’s work.

The EPA is returning to its “core mission” and is going “back to basics,” Pruitt said.

The agency will focus on the rule of law meaning that it will rely on congress to pass laws and EPA will enforce them, but won’t overreach in that enforcement as Pruitt has said was indicative of the Obama EPA.

In general, Republicans on the committee praised Pruitt for rolling back Obama initiatives like the Clean Water Rule and the Clean Power Plan which serves as the basis for the Paris Accord.

Pruitt said EPA will respect the role of the states in protecting the environment and as illustrated in the budget narrative, wants to return the responsibility for programs like Great Lakes restoration back to the states.

Pruitt hit a popular theme when he emphasized the agency will “invest in drinking and wastewater infrastructure.” Trump has talked about infrastructure as a high priority but has not provided details except to say it’s likely to be about public-private partnerships.

On eliminating EPA staff Pruitt said it would be done by “attrition, early retirements and buyouts” over the course of a number of years.

Pruitt was asked about eliminating the regional EPA office in Chicago which manages Great Lakes programs. He said he doesn’t know where that originated but said regional offices provide for good federal and state working relationships and closing the Chicago office hasn’t been discussed.

Ohio representatives Republican David Joyce and Democrat Marcy Kaptur made the case to Pruitt for funding for the Great Lakes. Both hit often repeated talking points about the environmental and economic benefits of restoration.

Extending the Olive Branch for Lake Erie Visit 

Ohio’s Kaptur sought and got a reassurance that specific projects in process will be allowed to continue even if budgets are cut and that there will be no summary dismissal of 500 scientists at an EPA facility in Cincinnati.

Kaptur extended an olive branch to Pruitt inviting him to visit Ohio for a bi-partisan site visit to Lake Erie to help him understand Erie’s problems. Pruitt accepted the invitation.

Committee members made their case for funding for programs in their states but there was little dialogue on the details. Pruitt would only say that he looked forward to working with them.

Several members of the committee reminded Pruitt that ultimately the funding authority for the EPA rests with congress.

The budget process continues until September 30 when the 2018 fiscal year begins.

The complete hearing is available here.

https://appropriations.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=394902

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