How Can Scott Pruitt Defend Drastic Cuts to EPA’s Budget?

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has trouble telling the truth. The world saw that from his brazen attempts on TV recently to spin President Trump's withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris climate accord. Many fact-checkers have called him out on his lies. See here, or here, or even here.

Pruitt will be in the spotlight again on Thursday. He’s scheduled to testify before the House Appropriations Interior Subcommittee on Trump’s draconian FY18 budget proposal for EPA.

There's no way that a 31% budget cut will not paralyze environmental protection and threaten public health.

So, when Pruitt tries to claim otherwise, here are some central points to keep in mind:

Budget cuts could cripple critical programs.

The Trump budget seeks a 30% cut to the extremely popular Brownfields program, which helps towns and cities redevelop former industrial sites. This would make it difficult to redevelop former industrial sites, according to Maine Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree.

It also seeks a $129 million reduction to EPA’s already under-resourced enforcement office, which is struggling to tackle drinking water violations as it is. For example, the EPA was only able to act on 11% of the 8,000 infractions reported in violation of the lead and copper rule.

Grants to states, which support air, water, and other core programs, would be sharply cut from about $3.6 billion to $2.9 billion.

Pruitt and public health.

Pruitt should answer how the EPA can carry out the basic requirements of safeguards in the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Toxics Substances Control Act if the agency loses 31% of its resources and more than 3,700 of its 15,300 people—while Trump also moves to roll back protections provided under those laws.

For perspective, it’s worth looking at EPA’s track record before the Trump era.

The EPA’s critical accomplishments in 2016 included: 13,500 compliance inspections and evaluations; 1,308 enforcement actions under the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act; 62 billion pounds of hazardous waste that enforcement actions required companies to address; and 190 million cubic yards of contaminated soil and groundwater cleanup commitments secured—enough to fill the Empire State building more than 138 times.

The effectiveness of Superfund cleanups is in jeopardy.

The Superfund initiative addresses abandoned industrial sites, city landfills, and military depots contaminated by hazardous substances and pollutants that have been linked to higher cancer risks and other diseases.  Although Pruitt has said it is an important priority, his plan seems to be to be to make cleanups less expensive for the responsible parties and more risky to the communities living with toxic sites, discussed in my recent blog.

Trump's budget sharply reduces funding for the Superfund program, cutting $330 million from the roughly $1.1 billion Superfund initiative. With many sites with plans in place and waiting to be funded Pruitt should tell those communities how much longer they will have to wait to be free of the toxics in their community. In addition, he should explain why he’s not pushed for the reinstatement of the Superfund tax.

Climate work would be rolled back by Pruitt.

Pruitt’s antipathy toward the very concept of climate change is well documented, and this budget proposal would put the agency’s head in the sand.

Nearly all of EPA’s work related to climate, from basic research to voluntary partnership programs that facilitate greenhouse gas reporting and energy efficiency, would be eliminated in this budget. EPA’s contribution to the Montreal Protocol Multilateral Fund, which helps the world combat HFC super pollutants, would also be eliminated.

Clean water is under threat from Trump.

Pruitt should answer whether he’ll commit that Americans’ drinking water safety won’t get worse if he successfully repeals Clean Water Act protections.

Trump signed an executive order on February 28 setting in motion steps to eliminate Obama-era clean water protections for waterways from which 117 million Americans get their drinking water. More about these protections from pollution here.

Pruitt’s “Back to Basics” agenda clashes with Trump’s agenda to cut state funding.

Pruitt has promoted the idea that he will seek to turn power back to the states in his “Back to basics” agenda. But that’s without any new funding.

Under Trump’s EPA budget proposal state and tribal assistance grants would fall from $1.08 billion to $597 million, or 45%. These grants help states carry out federal requirements including toxic substance compliance, pesticides, enforcement and brownfield inspections. Some spending items have been completely eliminated, such as beach protection, radon monitoring, and lead testing.

The budget also zeroes out funding for almost a dozen state-level programs to research and protect watershed ecosystems such as the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Champlain, Lake Pontchartrain and Puget Sound.

Pruitt’s “Back to Basics” promotes fossil fuels over public health.

With a coal mine as a backdrop, Pruitt announced his “back to basics,” agenda, saying it would refocus the agency on a core mission of cleaning up contaminated waste sites through the Superfund program and providing safe drinking water.

But former EPA administrators, including two Republicans, contend the EPA’s mission has always been much broader.

Christine Todd Whitman, George W. Bush's first EPA administrator told Politico: “Superfund is not the only issue for human health. Water pollution is a huge issue and very important and you need to work on it, but it's not the only issue. Air is an issue too. Even if you don't want to believe in climate change, you've got to believe that carbon and mercury are not good for you.”

Moves by Trump and Pruitt will lead to more air pollution.

If Pruitt succeeds in changing or delaying the water pollution standards for power plants that EPA adopted in 2015, it sets the stage for more emissions of arsenic, mercury, lead, and other toxins. That could affect the incidences of cancer or loss of IQ in exposed people.
 

The Trump budget could upend an American success story launched by a Republican president 45 years ago.

After all, The EPA averts tens of thousands of premature deaths and hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks, bronchitis cases and other illnesses—every year. It’s made our waters safer for fishing, swimming, and drinking. It has cut air pollution that makes us sick and contributes to climate change by 70 percent—while our economy has more than tripled in size, proving environmental protection and economic growth go hand in hand—in red, purple and blue states alike.

About the Authors

Scott Slesinger

Legislative Director

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