Chair McCollum Statement at Hearing on FY 2021 EPA Budget Request

2020-03-04 09:30

Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN), Chair of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's hearing on the Fiscal Year 2021 budget request for the Environmental Protection Agency:

Good morning, this hearing will come to order.

Today, the Interior-Environment Subcommittee will examine the President’s fiscal year 2021 budget request for the Environmental Protection Agency. Joining us this morning is Administrator Andrew Wheeler. With him is Acting Chief Financial Officer David Bloom. Welcome back to both of you.

For fiscal year 2021, the president requests $6.66 billion for EPA, a 27% cut below the FY 2020 enacted level of $9.06 billion. This request seeks to undo all the progress we were able to achieve on a broad, bipartisan basis in FY 2020. For example, the request eliminates the $39 million in new funding we provided EPA to address PFAS. The request would gut climate and clean air funding and grants by 47%, a $409 million cut below the FY 2020 level. The request also slashes $870 million from the $3 billion we invested in the FY 2020 bill to rebuild our nation’s crumbling water infrastructure.

I recently held a listening session in St. Paul, where the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency testified that they would lose 56% of their federal funding and approximately 75 full time staff if these cuts went through. The MPCA also outlined how proposed cuts to the Clean Water Act grants, air pollution monitoring, and brownfields clean up would harm our communities. Clean Water Action said the budget would be “absolutely catastrophic for clean water”.

And I directly heard from our counties and cities about concern that this budget fails to address PFAS pollution or to provide the necessary federal leadership on recycling. These cuts would be truly devastating if they were to be enacted.

But, fortunately this budget will not be enacted. Congress will reject these cuts, just like it did for the last three years.

So, rather than spending time talking about a request that will not be enacted, today I intend to focus on how the Agency plans to implement the recently enacted FY 2020 appropriation, and how the Agency plans to work with the Congress as we craft the FY 2021 bill.

Administrator Wheeler, when you were before us last year, you spoke about leaving the agency stronger than you found it, particularly when it comes to EPA’s workforce. However, it is my understanding that EPA never reached its staffing target for FY 2019, and that current staffing levels continue to be well below the FY 2020 staffing target. I plan to ask you about your plans to make up lost ground and rebuild the EPA workforce.

It is equally important that EPA treat its employees with dignity and respect. I believe the Agency has behaved in a very antagonistic way with its unions. Last July, rather than negotiate a new contract in good faith, EPA chose to unilaterally impose a new contract on its employees. In December, EPA agreed to return to the bargaining table, which I am glad to hear. However, we will be watching the progress of those talks closely, and I hope EPA leadership will negotiate in good faith to reach a fair outcome.

There has been a great deal of interest in the enforcement practices and policies at the EPA. Over the past decade, there has been a steady decline in the funding resources available to EPA for compliance and enforcement work. We have also seen a steady decline over the same time period

in the number of compliance and enforcement actions. Experts both inside and outside of EPA tell us that the two are directly related. That’s because EPA’s enforcement budget is almost entirely used to pay for compliance and enforcement personnel. Fewer people doing that work means fewer facilities inspected, fewer violations detected, and fewer cases brought.

I am extremely proud that last year, we were finally able to reverse the trend of flat or declining compliance and enforcement budgets. The FY 2020 agreement provided a $24 million increase for compliance and enforcement. This is the first increase in nearly a decade.

However, additional enforcement dollars will not automatically translate into better environmental outcomes. EPA needs to have the right strategies and policies in place to achieve its objectives. I hope to explore this further with you over the course of today’s hearing.

This Administration’s steady stream of reckless and irresponsible efforts to roll back health and climate protections weakens the Agency’s ability to fulfill its mission. Your proposal to undermine the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for power plants is universally opposed by public health groups AND the power sector.

Your proposal to roll back greenhouse gas standards for cars will cost consumers billions of dollars AND impede progress to address climate change.

Your repeated efforts to rig the science used to set health-based standards means more cancers, birth defects, and preventable deaths.

I, and many of my colleagues, will have questions for you about these things.

Finally, I want to touch briefly on the relationship between EPA and this Committee. Historically speaking, there has been a long tradition of comity between the Executive Branch and the Appropriations Committee. In the past, we all have been able to find ways to work together constructively even when we have disagreed, often strongly disagreed, on policy matters. The EPA has gotten away from that tradition these past few years. I had hoped things might improve compared to your immediate predecessor.

Unfortunately, we haven’t yet gotten back to where we used to be, and frankly, where I think we need to be. I hope we can begin to change that today.

I would now like to yield to our Ranking Member, Mr. Joyce, for his opening remarks.

116th Congress