Key Senator to Push for Housecleaning at EPA

March 1, 2017
The new chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is pulling no punches about changes in store for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

By Patrick Crow

The new chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is pulling no punches about changes in store for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) has been highly critical of EPA in recent remarks. He said his committee, in cooperation with Administrator-designate Scott Pruitt, will work to affect sweeping changes. “The status quo at the EPA is changing,” Barrasso pledged.

In his confirmation hearing before the panel, Pruitt necessarily was more circumspect.

However, the Oklahoma Attorney General (see “Washington Update,” WW, January 2017) made a number of statements in favor of the drinking water and wastewater sectors. He expressed strong support for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program and the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds. He said revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule should be a priority at the agency.

Pruitt evaded questions on whether all lead service lines should be replaced nationwide but spoke in favor of water utilities implementing corrosion control treatment projects.

As Oklahoma’s top lawyer, he has represented the state in lawsuits challenging several EPA actions. Pruitt did not promise to recuse himself from considering those issues in the future but said he would seek the counsel of EPA ethics officials.

Democrats on the environment committee twice boycotted a vote on Pruitt’s nomination, forcing Barrasso to suspend the rules so that the nomination could be forwarded to the full Senate.

Meanwhile, Barrasso delivered some stinging attacks against EPA.

In op-ed articles, he wrote, “The government agency responsible for protecting the environment and the health of Americans has been endangering the public’s health. The EPA has become a bloated regulatory behemoth that has lost sight of the needs of the American people and the environment. The agency’s bureaucrats have been more preoccupied with pushing punishing new regulations.

“This red tape killed thousands of jobs in energy-producing and manufacturing states such as West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Indiana, North Dakota and my state of Wyoming.”

Barrasso charged that EPA “regulatory rampage” has cost thousands of coal mining jobs; that carbon emissions actions threaten many thousand more workers; agency negligence caused toxic wastewater from the Gold King Mine to be dumped into a Colorado river; and that EPA bungled the Flint, Mich., crisis after lead contaminated the drinking water.

The senator said Pruitt is committed to protecting the environment while allowing the American economy to grow. He added that Pruitt is the right man to reform EPA. “He has seen the consequences of the agency’s overreach, and he has worked to restore its original focus.”

Pruitt also will play a major role in fulfilling President Donald Trump’s executive order that federal agencies revoke two regulations for every new one that they promulgate.

The “one-in, two-out” policy will begin moderately. For the rest of fiscal 2017, agencies must offset the cost of any new regulations by repealing existing ones. The intent seems to be directed at limiting the cost of rules rather than their number. For example, the repeal of existing regulations will not have to coincide with the issuance of new ones.

The policy will get tougher in fiscal 2018 when the White House Office of Management and Budget will cap the cost of each agency’s new rules to the economy.

Meanwhile, EPA delayed implementation of 30 rules issued in the Obama administration’s final months in order to give the Trump administration time to review and possibly withdraw them.

About the Author: Patrick Crow covered the U.S. Congress and federal agencies for 21 years as a reporter for industry magazines. He has reported on water issues for the past 15 years. Crow is now an Austin, Texas-based freelance writer.