WASHINGTON (CN) – In his first budget hearing as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt on Thursday faced tough questions from lawmakers about the billions of dollars the Trump administration has proposed to slash from the agency’s resources.
The White House proposed cutting the agency’s funding by more than $2 billion or 30 percent for fiscal year 2018. Many of the cuts effect programs that study and regulate the extremely harmful effects of exposure to things like radon and endocrine disruptors.
Radon, the leading cause of lung cancer for non-smokers, poisons roughly 21,000 people per year and Pruitt confirmed Wednesday before the House Appropriations Committee that the EPA completely removed its funding to address radon pollution.
Funding for impact studies, pollution control and other forms of regulation have also been wiped off the map for endocrine disruptors, or chemicals that are known to wreak havoc on the human hormonal system and can cause cancer or birth defects.
But Pruitt held firm in the face of criticism for such moves, defending the budget often and telling the committee “I believe we can fulfill the mission of the agency with a trim budget.”
Rep. Kevin Calvert, R-Calif, knew Pruitt was headed in for a tough round of testimony Thursday, starting his exchange with the administrator by saying: “You have a tough job here today … it’s not the budget you would craft, but it is the budget you have to defend.”
Rep. Betty McCollum, D.-Minn., offered a blunter assessment of the proposed cuts.
“He is putting his anti-environment agenda into action,” McCollum said.
She also offered a harsh critique of President Trump’s decision last month to pull out of the Paris climate accord.
She said the president has placed the United States into the role “rogue environmental nation.”
Rep. Nita Lowey, D-New York, was also critical of the decision, saying “this administration is burying its head in the sand.”
Lowey went on to press Pruitt to justify the proposed cuts and explain how the EPA will still be able to look out for the public’s health and well-being.
Lowey was particularly angered by the cut to the endorcrine disruptors program.
Pruitt said that this was only the “present approach,” and that it might change later should he and Congress decide to revisit it.
Pruitt also told lawmakers that he would focus on returning the EPA to its “core mission” and following the rule of law.
“The first thing is to focus on the rule of law. We’re reversing an attitude that one can simply ignore authority,” he said. “It is Congress that has the authority to pass statutes … We’re also focused on process, over the last several years the agency has engaged in rulemaking through consent decrees and litigation and we want to get away from that and return a voice back to the American people.”
Pruitt said he would work to make sure that the rulemaking process is as transparent and respective of the law, but stressed he believes states should take the lead on most regulatory matters.
“This is about respecting the role of states. A one size fits all strategy doesn’t work. States have unique environmental challenges and needs and we will continue to discuss that with you, but in respect to the budget, I believe we can fulfill the mission of our agency with proper leadership. We’ll work with Congress to focus on these national priorities,” Pruitt said.