EPA chief Scott Pruitt defends massive cuts, faces bipartisan backlash

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President Donald Trump is proposing major cuts to several agencies, but none would be as hard hit as the Environmental Protection Agency. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill confronted EPA chief Scott Pruitt, assuring him the cuts would not fly.

In a hearing before the House Appropriations subcommittee on Thursday, EPA Administrator Pruitt defended the Trump administration’s proposed budget, which slashed his agency’s budget by more than 30 percent.

“I believe we can fulfill the mission of our agency with a trimmed budget, with proper leadership and management,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said, according to a C-SPAN transcript.

The White House’s proposed budget would “trim” the EPA by $2.4 billion. To achieve this, the agency would have to reduce staff by nearly 4,000 and reduce or eliminate nearly 50 programs.

“I can assure you, you’re going to be the first EPA administrator that’s come before this committee in eight years that actually gets more money than they asked for,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma).

Pruitt said he wanted to bring the EPA “back to its core mission,” which he said involved improving air quality, clean water and fixing outdated infrastructure.

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However, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-New York) said that the cuts “would surely impact the EPA’s ability to fulfill its critical mission of protecting the air we breathe and the water we drink.”

“Between your disturbing close ties to the oil and gas industries, your past work to directly undermine the EPA and skepticism that human activity plays a role in climate change, I suppose it’s surprising you didn’t propose to eliminate the agency all together,” Lowey added.

Rep. Ken Calvert (R-California) said the committee was “unlikely to entertain” the White House’s proposal to cut nearly one-third from the Superfund cleanup program, which helps clean up the nation’s most polluted sites.

Other programs on the chopping block include the Energy Star efficiency program, which has helped customers save an estimated $430 billion on utility bills since 1992 and kept 2.8 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas from being pumped into the environment, according to the EPA’s own website.

The EPA would also eliminate the geographic programs that restore the Great Lakes, the Chesapeake Bay, Puget Sound and more. Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio) said the cuts would “cripple our collective efforts, halt the progress we’re making and undermine investments we have made.”

“We recognize the importance of the Great Lakes,” Pruitt said. “We recognize the importance to the citizens in that region, and we’re going to work with Congress to ensure that those objectives are obtained.”

On climate change, Pruitt said that America would “continue engagement” on the issue after leaving the Paris accord. However, he said that Congress has not given the EPA a mandate to regulate carbon dioxide from power plants, and those rules were stayed by the Supreme Court.

Pruitt added that the agency should “only intervene when states didn’t demonstrate a willingness to comply with the law.”

READ MORE: EPA to replace half of science advisors, critics fear industry takeover

However, Rhea Suh, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said that Pruitt misled the committee and that the court has “indicated no such thing.”

“President Trump can propose this destructive budget and Administrator Pruitt can promote it. But it is Congress and this committee that will determine the EPA’s funding,” Rep. McCollum (D-Minnesota) said in a statement. “As members of Congress, we cannot allow the harm to the American people that this budget would inflict. I will strongly oppose anything below the current fiscal year 2017 funding level for the EPA, and I will do everything I can to ensure another 192 Democrats are standing with me.”

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