Trump Nominee Expected to Seek Different Direction for EPA

Challenges and changes loom for the Environmental Protection Agency if the Trump Administration is to fulfill its campaign pledges.

By Patrick Crow

Challenges and changes loom for the Environmental Protection Agency if the Trump Administration is to fulfill its campaign pledges.

The administration’s initial hurdle will be to get Scott Pruitt installed as administrator of the 15,000-employee agency. Pruitt, currently Oklahoma’s attorney general, is an EPA critic, a fossil fuels advocate, and a climate change skeptic.

He has joined with other state attorneys general in lawsuits challenging EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which targets emissions from coal-fueled power plants, and the Clean Water Rule extending federal jurisdiction over wetlands and streams.

The President-elect opposed both regulations. Like Trump, Pruitt also questions EPA’s assertions that greenhouse gas emissions have increased global warming.

Pruitt has stated, “Reasonable minds can disagree about the science behind global warming, and disagree they do.”

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who will chair the Environment and Public Works Committee’s confirmation hearings for Pruitt, said the nominee would “bring balance to vital environmental stewardship.” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said Pruitt’s record “shows disdain for the EPA’s mission and ignorance of its importance.”

Environmental groups have been even harsher. Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, said, “Scott Pruitt has built his political career by trying to undermine EPA’s mission of environmental protection. He is a deeply troubling choice to head the agency that protects the clean air all Americans breathe and the clean water we drink.”

Pruitt would seem to have a numerical path for confirmation. Presidential nominees need 51 votes in the Senate, where Republicans now hold a 52-vote majority.

Although a critic of EPA rules, President-elect Trump has promised to protect clean air and water and develop a long-term plan to upgrade water infrastructure.

Ten water associations were quick to urge Trump to make drinking water and wastewater a priority. They were: the American Water Works Association, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, the National Association of Water Companies, the U.S. Water Alliance, the Water Environment Federation, the Water Environment & Reuse Foundation, the WateReuse Association, the Water Research Foundation, and the Water and Wastewater Equipment Manufacturers Association.

They said, “Many parts of the country face severe water infrastructure challenges. The EPA has estimated that a minimum of $271 billion in wastewater infrastructure investment and $384 billion in drinking water infrastructure investment is needed over the next 20 years to maintain our current systems.”

Citing a 2014 water industry report on the fiscal fallout from water improvement projects, the groups said, “Investment in water is one of the best bets we can make in terms of fueling economic growth.”

Congress Passes WRDA in Final Hours of Lame Duck Session

In typical Lame Duck Session brinksmanship, the 114th Congress passed the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) in its final hours.

WRDA authorizes the funding of nearly $12 billion in politically-popular Army Corps of Engineers construction projects to improve navigation, flood control, dam safety, and such.

A House-Senate conference committee merged WRDA into a House bill, the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, which Congress passed.

For the troubled Flint, Mich., water system, the bill authorizes the appropriation of $170 million through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF), plus additional grants for lead pipe replacements.

It authorizes $60 million per year until 2021 (with applicants providing 45 percent) to help small or disadvantaged communities reduce lead in drinking water and replace lead service lines.

It approves a $100 million, 5-year program to help schools and childcare centers test their drinking water for lead; amends the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act to allow application fees to be rolled into loans; and extends “Buy American” iron and steel mandates in Drinking Water SRF loans.

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.

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