The Environmental Protection Agency’s budget found defenders in Congress. And they aren’t from the party you might expect.
For months, ever since The Washington Post reported on leaked documents that showed the White House wanted to cut the EPA’s budget by almost a third, congressional Democrats have sharply criticized the proposal they say would gut environmental programs nationwide.
But on Thursday, President Trump’s EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, got an earful about Trump’s budget proposal from Republicans as well.
Democrats, unsurprisingly, were fierce in their defense of the EPA budget during a hearing in the House Appropriations' subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, in front of which Pruitt testified on Thursday. (Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.): “I’ll get straight to it. The fiscal year 2018 budget request for EPA is a disaster.")
But it was Republicans whose defense of various EPA programs cut in Trump's budget that drove home the point -- it is Congress, not the White House, that holds the power of the purse.
Who defended what? Let’s run it down:
Who? Rep. David Joyce, a Republican representing an Ohio district on the coast of Lake Erie.
What? The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, an EPA program aimed at cleaning up toxins and combating invasive species in the Great Lakes region after years of industrial pollution from Rust Belt factories. “Cleaning up the lakes isn’t about correcting mistakes from the past, but creating new opportunities and a brighter future for our shoreline communities,” Joyce said, adding the government should “clean up the Great Lakes and leverage them as an economic asset for the region.”
Who? Rep. Mike Simpson, a Republican from Idaho, famous for its potato farms.
What? The Office of Pesticide Programs, which manages the EPA’s pesticide regulations. “With a strong Office of Pesticide Programs,” Simpson said, “job creators in my district and other places in the country, such as the potato industry, would not have access to the essential crop protection tools.”
Who? Rep. Ken Calvert, a Republican from California’s smoggy Inland Empire and chair of the subcommittee.
What? The Targeted Air Shed Grant Program, which grants funds to local, state and tribal governments to reduce smog-causing air pollution. Riverside County, in which Calvert’s district sits, received grants to address ozone and particulate matter pollution for the 2016 fiscal year. Listing cuts to that and other EPA programs, Calvert said, “these are all proposals we are unlikely to entertain.”
Who? Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, a Republican from New Jersey, historically a manufacturing hub.
What? The EPA's Superfund program, which is responsible for cleaning up some of the most contaminated waste sites in the United States. He noted the dense concentration of Superfund sites in his state. Indeed, the four New Jersey counties through which Frelinghuysen’s district stretches -- Essex, Morris, Passaic and Sussex -- contain a total of 27, according to the EPA’s website.
“Ultimately it will be this committee and our Senate counterparts that determine the final outcome,” Frelinghuysen said of the EPA’s budget.
A reporter from CQ Roll Call tweeted Frelinghuysen's comments:
At EPA budget hearing, Rep Frelinghuysen tells EPA's Pruitt that "power of purse" is in Congress and that he opposes cuts to Superfund— Elvina Nawaguna (@elvina_nawaguna) June 15, 2017
The pattern: Just as senators are inclined to defend the budgets of Energy Department labs that employ residents of their states, House members are inclined to defend EPA programs that they believe benefit their constituents.
This is where rubber meets road for the Party of Small Government. In the abstract, Republicans generally want to reduce government spending. But they flinch when the budgetary ax swings down on hometown programs.
Pruitt, however, didn't wince. Throughout the hearing, he defended the proposed budget through slings and arrows. The Post's Brady Dennis reports:
President Trump once vowed to get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency “in almost every form,” leaving behind only “tidbits.” On Thursday, the man he appointed to lead the EPA went to Capitol Hill to defend a budget proposal that would begin that promised dismantling.
“I believe we can fulfill the mission of our agency with a trimmed budget, with proper leadership and management,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told members of a House Appropriations subcommittee, adding in his prepared remarks that the Trump administration’s proposal “supports EPA’s highest priorities” while aiming “to reduce redundancies and inefficiencies.”
Pruitt did make clear Thursday that he plans to continue to shrink the EPA’s 15,000-employee workforce, though he said reductions probably can be accomplished through attrition, buyouts and an ongoing hiring freeze, rather than layoffs.
“About 20 percent of the agency is eligible for retirement today, and that’s going to increase over the next several years,” Pruitt told lawmakers. “That’s how we’re going to address the proposed cuts to personnel.”
Or as a reporter for Mother Jones put it:
Noteworthy that Pruitt is not defending the budget on ideological grounds. Defending it by claiming EPA will ~~somehow~~~ do it anyway.— Rebecca Leber (@rebleber) June 15, 2017
Pruitt's standard response today: You're right this is a concern and we will still do it all though the budget eliminates the office— Rebecca Leber (@rebleber) June 15, 2017
--House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) remains in critical condition as of Thursday evening but has improved since Wednesday,according to MedStar Washington Health Center. Lobbyist Matt Mika’s condition, previously critical, has improved to serious, according to George Washington University Hospital.
--Just more than 36 hours after the shooting that left Scalise and five others injured, Republican and Democratic lawmakers bowed their heads in prayer in the middle of the field at Nationals Park, at the Congressional Baseball Game that carried on in a show of unity and bipartisanship in front of a record crowd of 24,959. Special agent David Bailey, one of the Capitol Police officers injured in the shooting, threw out the first pitch.
--House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wisc.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) gave a joint interview to CNN from the game. “Tonight we’re all Team Scalise,” Pelosi said. Ryan called for unity and a for toning down heightened rhetoric in the wake of the shooting. “What we’re trying to do is tone down the rhetoric, lead by example and show people we can disagree with one another, we can have different ideas without being vitriolic, without going to such extremes,” he said. While the Democrats won the baseball game 11-2, they gave the trophy to Republicans to give to Scalise.
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-- Pruitt used Thursday's hearing to shoot down a rumor that the EPA wants to close its regional Chicago office. He called the notion “pure legend," adding “there is no consideration presently with respect to any regional offices about moving them to one location or another." The office's former regional director, Susan Hedman, resigned last year in the wake of the Flint water crisis.
-- The EPA chief also made another commitment: He said that the agency would publish a replacement to President Obama's "Waters of the United States" (WOTUS) rule by the beginning of 2018, at the latest.
"We'll have a final rule that will provide a definition for waters in the United States by the fourth quarter of this year, no later than the first quarter of next year," Pruitt told the House subcommittee.
Under the previous administration, the EPA and Defense Department issued the rule to clarify the long-contested legal questions of which U.S. waterways are covered under the 1972 Clean Water Act, the main federal law regulating water pollution. When the rule was issued, many congressional Republicans worried the coverage area was defined too broadly and would infringe on the rights of property owners, including farmers using fertilizer who may be exposed to new regulation under the law.
-- The New York Times has a long, worthwhile look at how the Netherlands is handling sea-level rise. Much of the rest of the world is interested in that question, too. Michael Kimmelman, the paper's architecture critic, reports on how the Dutch have turned sea-level rise mitigation into an economic opportunity: "Like cheese in France or cars in Germany, climate change is a business in the Netherlands. Month in, month out, delegations from as far away as Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City, New York and New Orleans make the rounds in the port city of Rotterdam. They often end up hiring Dutch firms, which dominate the global market in high-tech engineering and water management... From a Dutch mind-set, climate change is not a hypothetical or a drag on the economy, but an opportunity. While the Trump administration withdraws from the Paris accord, the Dutch are pioneering a singular way forward. It is, in essence, to let water in, where possible, not hope to subdue Mother Nature: to live with the water, rather than struggle to defeat it." (The New York Times)
-- The 11-person Office of International Climate and Technology has been closed, the New York Times reports. The Energy Department office worked with other countries on developing clean energy technologies. It was the only office in the department with "climate" in its title. (The New York Times)
-- Bloomberg New Energy Finance, an energy research group, says that by 2040 wind and solar will account for 34 percent of all power generated globally.
The victim of that growth: Coal. In the United States, "BNEF expects the nation’s coal-power capacity in 2040 will be about half of what it is now after older plants come offline and are replaced by cheaper and less-polluting sources such as gas and renewables."
Strikingly, ExxonMobil predicts renewable sources excluding hydroelectric will account for less than 11 percent of the world's electricity market, reports The Financial Times.
-- Scientists have long known that Louisiana is shrinking. But now they know it is happening more rapidly than expected. A new paper includes an updated map (above) of the Louisiana coastline and the rate at which it’s sinking into the sea, a process scientists call "subsidence," which occurs in addition to the climate change-caused process of sea-level rise. The map suggests that, on average, the Louisiana coast is sinking at a rate of about 9 millimeters, or just over a third of an inch, per year — a faster rate than previous studies have suggested, according to the authors. The combination of subsidence and sea-level rise along the Gulf shore has made coastal Louisiana increasingly vulnerable to erosion. (Chelsea Harvey)
-- When parents think about the dangers of lead, they often think of paint and water. But areport published Thursday by the Environmental Defense Fund raises questions about another, surprising possibility: baby food. The group found detectable amounts of the poisonous metal in 14 percent of 10,064 general food samples tested. EDF said the results don't means parents should stop feeding their children packaged baby food. But they do mean manufacturers should investigate what's going on, the group said. (Ariana Eunjung Cha)
-- Trump’s recent suggestion to the mayor of Tangier Island in Chesapeake Bay that the island was not in imminent danger due to sea-level rise has prompted one resident to start a GoFundMe page titled "Save Tangier Island." The goal, fundraiser Anna E. Pruitt-Parks wrote, is to purchase 550 copies of a documentary about the island's erosion problem and send them to federal officials, including Trump. The page met its $3,200 goal within 3 days. (Associated Press)
- Energy Secretary Rick Perry is scheduled to testify before the House Appropriations’ Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies on June 20 on the department’s proposed budget.
- Perry will also testify before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development on June 21 and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on June 22 on the department’s budget.
- The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Public Lands, Forests and Mining's will hold an oversight hearing on restoring watersheds and large landscapes on June 20.
- Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will testify on June 20 before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on the department’s budget request.
- Zinke will also testify about the department’s budget during a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Department of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies on June 21 and the House Committee on Natural Resources on June 22 .
- Later this month, the U.S. Energy Information Administration will host its 2017 EIA Energy Conference in Washington D.C.
The Nebraska Public Service Commission has scheduled a third public meeting to review a proposed route for the Keystone XL pipeline to transport oil from Canada, across Montana and South Dakota and to Nebraska. The hearing is scheduled for June 28.
Watch as Republicans and Democrats pray together at the Congressional Baseball Game:
The House passed a resolution on June 15 praising first responders and expressing support for victims of the shooting at a Congressional baseball practice:
A look at whether President Trump has kept his campaign promises:
And Stephen Colbert takes on the report from The Post that special counsel is investigating Trump for possible obstruction of justice: