Republicans hammer Pruitt over proposed EPA budget cuts
GOP lawmakers peppered EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt with tough questions Thursday regarding proposed budget cuts to the agency
At a House hearing on the White House's proposed EPA budget, a number of Republican members of Congress vocally objected to the proposed cuts that would slash funding by more than 30%, putting it back to 1990 levels.
"May I say I share at times some of the animus that's aimed at your agency by a variety of different groups," appropriations subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-New Jersey, told Pruitt.
"We are home to a historical background that shows us to have more Superfund sites than any other in the nation," Frelinghuysen said of New Jersey, which houses numerous sites marked federally for cleanup of hazardous substance contamination. "I know there has been a proposal here to reduce substantial funding for this program."
Frelinghuysen and other Republicans spoke of concerns over how the EPA under Pruitt would handle its duties with a smaller staff and less funding.
GOP Rep. David Joyce of Ohio was largely concerned about proposed cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The White House budget would zero out the program completely.
"For us, cleaning up the Great Lakes isn't just about cleaning up mistakes of the past, but providing new economic opportunities for the future," he said to Pruitt. "This work wouldn't happen without federal support. How will these functions be maintained if the GLRI is eliminated?"
Joyce said he was largely concerned by the cuts due to the fact that Ohio receives three quarters of its drinking water from Lake Erie. GOP Rep. Michael Simpson of Idaho was concerned about the threat climate change is having on agriculture. With changing temperatures, many farmers across the country have been experiencing increased pest issues. Simpson said potato farmers in his state needed new pesticides to combat the new pests. One problem though was that increased job cuts at EPA meant fewer people testing and approving those new pesticides.
"A lower level of funding, leads to less timely reviews," he said. "The President's budget will cut well below the minimum. The potato industry will not have access to the proper crop production tools."
Pruitt responded in turn to each lawmaker, stating that he looks forward to working with them individually in the future. He promised that the EPA's new "back to basics" approach would address many of the concerns brought up in the hearing.
Additionally, he promised that EPA job cuts would not result in pink slips. Instead the cuts would be achieved through attrition, voluntary buyouts and the current hiring freeze.
A number of Democrats and outside groups who have spoken out against the proposed budget say the cuts are a thinly veiled attempt to whittle down the EPA until it is no longer a functioning regulatory authority.
"I think it's good to move with precaution and caution before you take too many dramatic steps," Frelinghuysen told Pruitt of his hopes for the department.
Frelinghuysen also added a word of caution to Pruitt: "The power of the purse remains in this committee."
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