Expect GOP Plaudits for Pruitt But Not EPA Budget at Hearing

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By Brian Dabbs

EPA chief Scott Pruitt will likely get a warm welcome from Republican appropriators next week despite bipartisan opposition to the agency’s fiscal year 2018 budget, a GOP lawmaker told Bloomberg BNA.

Republicans are applauding the agency’s regulatory rollbacks, and that praise will likely set the tone for Pruitt’s maiden testimony on Capitol Hill as administrator, said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, which oversees the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget.

Members on both sides of the aisle, however, are poised to raise concerns about the wide-ranging cuts in the agency’s budget, lawmakers said. Pruitt will defend the request, which was crafted and released by the White House, before the subcommittee on June 15.

‘A Very Friendly Reception’

“He’ll get, obviously from the Republican side, a very friendly reception because of the regulatory things, but I think there’ll be some pretty serious discussions about the size of the cuts,” Cole told Bloomberg BNA. “I think at the end of the day, EPA takes a haircut. It’s certainly taken several haircuts with a Republican Congress, but it’s hard for me to see cuts of the size that were proposed in the president’s budget.”

The EPA is reviewing rules defining which bodies of water are subject to federal regulation and limiting methane emissions in oil and gas operations, as well as those setting ozone and fuel economy standards. The agency is also reviewing the Clean Power Plan, President Barack Obama’s signature rule to combat climate change by limiting power plant emissions.

But the FY18 budget cuts, which total $2.6 billion, hit immediate Republican opposition on Capitol Hill. That reduction amounts to nearly one-third of the agency’s current budget.

“Just trying to substitute agency cuts for policy disagreement is a tool, but it’s probably not the longest-lasting, most effective one,” Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.), another member of the subcommittee told Bloomberg BNA. “I don’t think that any of those people on that committee are going to vote for cuts just because that’s the administration’s recommendation.”

The budget would slash enforcement and zero out funding for programs to restore the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay and other bodies of water, while chopping an array of other bedrock programs. The White House is requesting a roughly 80 percent reduction in funding for the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, which funds clean diesel projects. That program is a favorite of subcommittee Chairman Ken Calvert (R-Calif.).

‘The King’s Man’

The White House budget also makes deep cuts in Superfund and state grant accounts, both of which Pruitt has singled out as important functions. But the administrator is prepared to vouch for the budget before lawmakers.

“Administrator Pruitt will be testifying in support of the president’s proposed budget, which seeks to return EPA to its statutory mission, and reduce redundancies and inefficiencies,” EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman told Bloomberg BNA. “We believe that with better leadership, and reducing inefficiencies and administrative costs, we can accelerate the pace of the clean-ups of [Superfund sites]. It is also worth noting that we believe there is a significant amount of money being wasted in administrative costs in this program.”

Agency chiefs regularly disagree with some aspects of a budget they’re tasked to defend.

“He works for the president. You take the king’s shilling, you become the king’s man. That’s just the way it works,” Cole said. “At the end of the day, if you’re going to be part of the administration, you have to defend the president’s budget.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Dabbs in Washington at bdabbs@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rachael Daigle at rdaigle@bna.com

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