June 27, 2017

Udall: EPA's Budget Proposes ‘Offensive’ Widespread Cuts Threatening Public Health, Clean Air, Clean Water

Demands answers on proposal to slash EPA support for climate change programs, research, states, TSCA implementation, Superfund cleanup

Secures commitment from Pruitt that EPA will rethink misguided approach to Gold King Mine compensation, continue funding for water monitoring

VIDEO: https://www.appropriations.senate.gov/hearings/review-of-the-fy2018-budget-request-for-the-environmental-protection-agency

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that oversees funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), demanded that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt explain the administration’s dangerous and “offensive” proposal to slash funding for programs essential to the EPA’s core mission of protecting clean air, clean water, and public health.

During a hearing on the EPA's Fiscal Year 2018 budget, Udall pushed Pruitt to answer how he intends to carry out his promise to meet EPA’s essential responsibilities given the administration's proposal to make massive cuts to research, support to states, climate change programs, and Superfund cleanup. Udall also questioned Pruitt on the EPA’s implementation of Udall’s landmark bipartisan chemical safety reform law enacted last year, noting that while funding is maintained for the EPA’s toxics office, the EPA has announced new policies that would weaken the chemical safety program. Citing these irresponsible cuts and misguided priorities, Udall predicted that Pruitt’s EPA budget “is dead on arrival."

“The budget request before us today is downright offensive,” Udall said. "It would slash EPA funding by nearly a third. Research is cut in half. Enforcement is cut by a quarter. Toxic cleanup is cut by 30 percent. Support for states is slashed by 45 percent. Tribal support is cut by 30 percent. Environmental justice programs are zeroed out. And all climate change programs are eliminated. I can’t square this with your rhetoric about returning EPA to its core responsibilities. Nothing was spared. EPA’s ‘core' is hollowed out. … And let’s not pretend that the agency hasn’t already sustained cuts and already been working hard to do more with less. Staffing has slid a full 10 percent over the last decade. The agency’s budget has dropped nearly $1 billion in real terms."

“These cuts aren’t an attempt to rein in spending – they are intentional steps to undermine science and ignore environmental and public health realities,” Udall said.

“It’s 2017, but I fear we are reverting to the Dark Ages,” Udall said, blasting the Trump administration for its “relentless pursuit to undercut and disregard science to the benefit of industry.”

Udall questioned Pruitt about the administration’s continued refusal to acknowledge and address the urgent threat of climate change, including an EPA budget that axes almost all money devoted to programs to combat global warming. Udall noted the sudden and troubling removal of the EPA’s climate change website, and pressed Pruitt to provide the “official Trump administration position on accepting the scientific evidence that man-made climate change is occurring.”

Pruitt refused to identify an official Trump administration position on climate change. In response, Udall offered the following statement after the hearing: “Scott Pruitt’s inability – or unwillingness – to articulate this administration’s position on climate change, the biggest existential threat the world faces, is beyond alarming. Science is about evidence, not beliefs. And the evidence that we must act to combat climate change is overwhelming. Igoring this urgent problem is not a solution."

Udall also asked Pruitt to square his desire to allow states to make decisions locally with his proposal to slash funding for EPA grants to states by 45 percent – even as states are still struggling to recover to pre-recession revenue levels. "States are on the front line for implementing most of our federal environmental laws. They rely on EPA for more than a quarter of the funding needed to carry out these delegated responsibilities. States are the ones that run programs to decrease childhood lead poisoning, prevent radon poisoning in schools and homes, oversee public water systems to prevent tragedies like Flint, Michigan, reduce ozone, monitor water pollution, and ensure safe disposal of hazardous waste,” Udall said. "It looks to me like this budget proposes to create a foregone conclusion that state-delegated environmental programs die on the vine. How do you envision states would be able to make up for this drop in federal support?”

In addition, Udall questioned Pruitt about how the EPA is implementing Udall’s landmark chemical safety reform law, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which was enacted last year to fix the badly broken Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976. "I’m glad to hear you say you support robust implementation of TSCA,” Udall said. "Yet this proposal cuts programs that are vital to TSCA, such as the Office of Research and Development – cut in half – and core agency functions like enforcement. We can’t just build a wall around the TSCA office and expect it will perform.” Udall also said he was troubled by the TSCA framework rules that Pruitt announced last week. "I need your assurances that EPA is going to take a comprehensive look at chemicals and their impacts on public health and the environment, not a limited review focused solely on uses that help shield chemical companies from regulation of their products,” Udall said.

Udall expressed his deep concern at Pruitt’s proposal to cut 30 percent from Superfund cleanup at the most contaminated sites in the nation. "I understand you started a task force to speed up Superfund cleanups,” Udall said. "I welcome a fresh look at the process. But I’m worried that a focus on speed will lead to shortcuts and lax standards. Sites like the Bonita Peak Mining District, which includes the Gold King Mine, need comprehensive remediation – not a Band-Aid.”

On Gold King Mine, Udall secured a commitment from Pruitt that the EPA will rethink its insufficient and misguided approach to compensating Navajo farmers and others harmed by the spill. In response to questioning from Udall, Pruitt stated that EPA’s insufficient compensation of the victims is "something that we’re trying to remedy, and in the process of remedying. … We’ve been engaged in a very robust investigation, on the ground, developing facts that I think demonstrate the EPA needs to do more than what was done by the end of last year, in response to the Gold King situation."

Finally, Udall pressed Pruitt about the administration’s proposal to cut off support to help the Navajo Nation and states with a water monitoring program to ensure the safety of water flowing through the community from the Gold King Mine. Udall championed $4 million to start that program in the FY17 omnibus appropriations bill, but the EPA is proposing to eliminate funding for the program in FY 2018. "Can you assure us today that you will be fully committed to working with the Navajo and the states to ensure the water monitoring is ramped up quickly, despite the request to stop funding for these state and Tribal efforts in FY18?” Udall asked. Pruitt committed to doing so, saying that “it's important for the agency to do more than what it’s done, with respect to the Gold King situation, and I will commit to you that we are going to do that."

The following is Udall's opening statement as prepared for delivery:

Administrator Pruitt, I appreciate seeing you before us today. I’d like to thank Holly Greaves for joining you. Welcome to you both.

Administrator Pruitt, the budget request before us today is downright offensive.

It would slash EPA funding by nearly a third. Research is cut in half. Enforcement is cut by a quarter. Toxic cleanup is cut by 30 percent. Support for states is slashed by 45 percent. Tribal support is cut by 30 percent. Environmental justice programs are zeroed out. And all climate change programs are eliminated.

I can’t square this with your rhetoric about returning EPA to its core responsibilities. Nothing was spared. EPA’s “core” is hollowed out.

And let’s not pretend that the agency hasn’t already sustained cuts and already been working hard to do more with less. Staffing has slid a full 10 percent over the last decade. The agency’s budget has dropped nearly $1 billion in real terms.

These cuts aren’t an attempt to rein in spending – they are intentional steps to undermine science and ignore environmental and public health realities.

Your budget actually boasts about eliminating 60 programs, reversing real progress in every corner of our nation, from the US-Mexico Border to the Chesapeake Bay.

Also eliminated are the Energy Star and Water Sense programs, market-based partnerships which together have saved consumers nearly half a trillion dollars on their utility bills.

Many of the programs you’re proposing to eliminate have proven track records. The budget takes aim at the U.S.-Mexico border infrastructure program, which has eliminated 353 million gallons of raw sewage per day from transborder watersheds, significantly reducing cases of Hepatitis A, skin disorders, and gastrointestinal disease.

The idea that these programs are unnecessary, redundant, or even “mature,” ignores real results and the need to sustain the progress we’ve made.

The only bright spot I see in this budget is continued funding for drinking water and clean water infrastructure for states, proposed at $2.25 billion.

But, the administration’s support for the states goes dark after water infrastructure. Administrator Pruitt, you’ve expressed your intent to “return” responsibility to the states, but then you propose to cut state funding by 45 percent.

States are on the front line for implementing most of our Federal environmental laws. They rely on EPA for more than a quarter of the funding needed to carry out these delegated responsibilities. States are the ones that run programs to decrease childhood lead poisoning, prevent radon poisoning in schools and homes, oversee public water systems to prevent tragedies like Flint, Michigan, reduce ozone, monitor water pollution, and ensure safe disposal of hazardous waste.

In other words, cutting this funding is a backdoor evisceration of the core programs you claim to prize.

The budget also proposes to cut enforcement by 23 percent, taking cops off the beat from holding polluters accountable.

We don’t need to guess how this would turn out. Reagan-era cuts to EPA – similar to the size you propose – resulted in 69 percent fewer civil cases referred to the Justice Department.

And for an administration focused on return on investment, it’s surprising to see a proposal to scale back such an effective tool in EPA’s toolbox. Compliance stemming from enforcement cases have generated $60 billion in pollution control investments in just the past five years.

This proposal also cuts 30 percent from Superfund cleanup – by definition, the most contaminated sites in the nation. More than 1,300 sit on a waiting list.

I’m also troubled that your budget proposes to eliminate $4 million for independent monitoring of the water still flowing – every day – from the Gold King Mine into areas of New Mexico. I worked hard last year to start that program.

I’m committed to continuing this funding, despite the administration’s proposal to stop supporting the Navajo and the states in this effort. It is critical to the health of those living downstream from Gold King Mine. It’s also critical that we ensure those affected by the spill receive proper compensation, and I continue to work to make that happen.

The budget also cuts research funding in half – which would cause ripple effects for generations. How would we identify risks? What basis would we have to mitigate the worst impacts on our health and environment? It’s 2017, but I fear we are reverting to the Dark Ages.

The budget also proposes to fire 3,800 scientists and researchers, a full 25 percent of EPA’s staff. This comes on the heels of 1,500 staff already lost over the last decade, a drop of nearly 10 percent. And just last week the administration handed out pink slips to most of EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors, which ensures that EPA’s research is grounded in credible scientific evidence.

Add this to your backtracking on a growing list of critical regulations that were based on sound science – for clean water, ozone, greenhouse gases, pesticides, methane, and fracking. It’s clear that this administration is in a relentless pursuit to undercut and disregard science to the benefit of industry.

I was originally heartened by your commitment to toxics reform. But last week, EPA announced new policies that would weaken the risk evaluations at the heart of the program. It looks like the chemical industry has punched loopholes into TSCA. Your budget appears to preserve most of the funding for the toxics office. But no amount of funding can overcome policies to weaken the intent of the law. And the law should be implemented in the same bipartisan, balanced way in which it was created and passed.

Finally, this budget request virtually eliminates every dollar of EPA funding related to climate change. Fuel standards, international partnerships, research – all of it.

Sadly, these proposed cuts go hand in glove with the president’s decision to renege on our commitments under the Paris Agreement.

Climate change is a global crisis that requires urgent global action. But this administration is choosing to isolate the United States from what scientists, national security experts, and world leaders agree is one of the greatest destabilizing forces of our time – climate change – and the role of human activity in creating it.

As a nation, we can’t afford to stick our head in the sand and ignore scientific reality. Just like we can’t afford to enact many of the other irresponsible cuts included in this budget request.

Administrator Pruitt, this budget is dead on arrival.

We agree that EPA funding needs to focus on EPA’s core responsibilities. To most Americans, and to me, it’s clear that this core responsibility is to protect public health and ensure clean air and clean water.

But this proposed budget shows that the new EPA thinks its core responsibility is to cater to industry. Let polluters off the hook, deny the tenets of science, and walk away from our global commitments.

We obviously have a lot to discuss this morning, Administrator Pruitt. Thank you.