Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle criticized the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed budget for cutting clean water funding and eliminating a lung cancer prevention program.
The Obama’s administration’s $8.3 billion EPA FY2017 budget request increases climate change-related funding to $235 million, which includes money for its Clean Power Plan.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) argued the administration should be putting that money into existing programs instead since the Supreme Court placed a stay on the Clean Power Plan.
“The EPA has testified before this committee that they have done no modeling on whether the rule [Clean Power Plan] would have any impact on global temperature change,” he said during a committee hearing on the EPA budget. “The president is intent on picking winners and losers in the energy economy.”
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) asked EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy how she justifies cutting water infrastructure funding after incidents like lead poisoning in Flint, Mich., occurred. Cardin said he is “perplexed” by the $413 million reduction.
“There are obviously constraints that we have. One is we have to respect the levels that were established in the bipartisan budget agreement and our choice was how do we use the money that is allocated to us in the best way that we can,” McCarthy told Cardin.
McCarthy said Flint has made it “clear to everyone” that the EPA and others must have a “larger conversation” about water infrastructure.
“I don’t think that is something that we can identify as a way to fully resolve it in the budget restraints of EPA,” she said.
Cardin urged McCarthy to dedicate more resources to clean water, pointing out that children in the Baltimore Public School system cannot drink from the water fountains due to the threat of lead contamination.
During the hearing, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) cited coal-related job loss figures of 2,400 in his home state since Jan. 1. He challenged McCarthy on the impact the EPA’s regulations have on the coal industry.
“Are you going to tell the laid-off coal miners in West Virginia and Wyoming and Kentucky that you take no responsibility whatsoever for what is happening in coal country?” he asked.
“Our responsibility is to make sure that when the energy system is shifting as it is in the market today that we do everything we can to help those communities and those folks be able to cope with a shift in the economy and the energy that we are seeing,” McCarthy responded.
“You’re saying you are not responsible for even one job loss in the coal industry?” Barrasso shot back.
“Sir, I did not say — that is not what my quote said, but I would indicate to you I believe the energy system has been shifting since the ‘80s and it is time we work with those communities and individuals to make sure everybody in the United States has an opportunity to live well,” she said. “But the vast majority of that is related directly to the market shift, not to EPA regulation.”
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) asked McCarthy why the Obama administration’s EPA budget eliminates the state indoor radon grant program, a lung cancer prevention initiative, but increases climate change funding for the Clean Power Plan, which was halted by the Supreme Court.
“It seems to me that taking away money from known threats such as radon is inefficient in that there are some 21,000 lung cancer deaths attributed to radon each year,” Wicker said.
“If I thought $8.1 million in state grants would actually reduce 21,000 lives and save those, I would,” she said. “We have developed a separate strategy that we think is more efficient that doesn’t require state grants to be done.”
According to the EPA’s official website, “state and tribal radon programs are critical to the agency’s national goal of minimizing and preventing radon-related lung cancer. States and tribes receive grant funds from EPA that help finance their radon risk reduction programs.”