March 02, 2011

Subcommittee Panel Examines EPA Budget

Washington, D.C. – The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment today held an oversight hearing on the Administration’s budget request and priorities for fiscal year 2012 for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The Subcommittee received testimony from Nancy Stoner, Acting Assistant Administrator for Water and Mathy Stanislaus, Assistant Administrator for Solid Waste and Emergency Response.

Below are opening statements of U.S. Representative Nick J. Rahall (D-WV), Democratic Ranking Member of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and U.S. Representative Timothy H. Bishop (D-NY), Democratic Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, as prepared for delivery:   

Opening Statement of U.S. Representative Nick J. Rahall
Ranking Member, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee
Hearing on Review of the FY 2012 Budget and Priorities of the
Environmental Protection Agency
March 2, 2011

Thank you Chairman Gibbs and Ranking Member Bishop.  I appreciate the opportunity to participate today and I join you in welcoming Acting Assistant Administrator Nancy Stoner, and Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus.

This hearing is timely.  Given recent action by the House on the EPA budget during consideration of the FY 2011 Continuing Resolution, the agency faces the prospect of some challenging times ahead, to make an understatement.

I often feel the Majority’s backdoor way to defund the EPA is to require so many appearances of the Administration and staff on Capitol Hill that all of their funds will go to gas money to get here.

Those of us who live in southern West Virginia believe that we can have balance between energy development and environmental preservation, and we have been doing so for decades.

But balance cannot be achieved without fairness and equity, and the policies of this EPA, at times, have been anything but fair and equitable when it comes to coal mining in Appalachia.

When the EPA issued its “detailed guidance” concerning Clean Water Act permitting in April of 2010, it did so singling out coal mining, and coal mining only in Appalachia.

Though the agency labeled it “interim guidance,” the regime it spelled out was made effective immediately, and now the EPA is scheduled to finalize the guidance on April 1 – less than a month from today.

A government cannot have one set of rules for one industry in one region of the country, and a separate set of rules for everyone else, and claim to be fair and just.

What is more, the EPA is treating this so-called guidance as if it were binding policy.

It is limiting state-issued discharge permits based on noncompliance with this guidance; bypassing existing law and long-standing regulation; and substituting a wholly new, barely studied, entirely confusing criterion for determining water quality – along with new timelines for review and approval of petitions.

Further, the regime set forth in that guidance memo has thrown the permitting process throughout the region into utter turmoil, with rules being determined on a case-by-case basis.

The EPA erred in the way it pursued changes in its surface coal mine permitting process.  Some change was warranted; certainly the status quo was not working.

I do not know of anyone who opposes clean air and safe water, or who wants our children’s health put at risk due to a degraded environment.  And I worry that deep funding cuts will weaken our economy and stifle job-creation we sorely need.

But the message I hope our witnesses take back with them today is that in striving to achieve worthy, valued goals, the EPA must work with the Congress and with the people who elected us, or it will, as the Framers intended, find its power checked.

Mr. Chairman, I ask unanimous consent that I may submit questions for the record and I thank you and Ranking Member Bishop for your courtesy.


Thank you, Mr. Chairman for holding this hearing on the President’s fiscal year 2012 budget request for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Today marks the first of two planned hearings to review the budgets and priorities of the agencies under the jurisdiction of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.  These hearings provide a valuable opportunity for our new and returning members to learn the breadth of this Subcommittee’s jurisdiction over several Executive branch departments and agencies, and I look forward to working with the Chairman to hear, firsthand, from the other agencies within our jurisdiction during these planned hearings.

Mr. Chairman, all of us recognize the gravity of the financial situation facing this nation, and the world, today.  This nation is just starting to emerge from the worst economic recession since the Great Depression.  However, with the national unemployment rate still standing at 9.0 percent, and the unemployment rate for the construction sector at 22.5 percent, we are far from completing our work.

Thanks, in part, to the foresight of this administration and the courageous actions of the previous Congress, our nation was able to lessen the potential impact of the last recession on hard-working American families, and pull our economy back from the brink.

Conservative estimates confirm that, but for the infusion of additional infrastructure investment advocated by this Committee for inclusion in the Recovery Act, job losses in the construction sector would have been far worse.  As this Committee has shown, time and time again, investment in our nation’s infrastructure does have a significant and positive impact on the economy and does create jobs.

That is why I am concerned that the new Republican majority has taken aggressive steps to cut funding for many Federal programs with a proven record of providing economic benefits to the nation and for creating jobs.

Unfortunately, the Republicans have responded to the nation’s economic situation with an axe when a scalpel would seem more appropriate.

Just two weeks ago, the Republican majority pushed through a stop-gap spending bill that decimated several critical infrastructure investment programs, and threatens increased job loss and economic uncertainty at an extremely delicate time on the nation’s economy.

Mr. Chairman, today’s budget hearing title references impacts to jobs and the economy.  According to two separate reports from Wall Street analysts, the Republican majority’s proposal to cut $61 billion from the current fiscal year budget would decimate broader efforts at job creation throughout the nation, and “would be taking an unnecessary chance with the [ongoing economic] recovery.” 

Specifically, these reports highlight how, if enacted as passed by the House, the Republican proposal would result in 400,000 fewer jobs created by the end of fiscal year 2011, and 700,000 fewer jobs by the end of 2012.  In addition, news analyses of the reports suggest that the Republican’s proposal would “reduce the growth in the gross domestic product by up to 2 percentage points this year, essentially cutting in half the nation’s projected economic growth for 2011.”

Christine Todd Whitman, Republican EPA Administrator under President George W. Bush, estimated that the needs of our nation’s aging water infrastructure topped $660 billion.  Yet, within the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency, the most notable reduction is the $1.4 billion proposed cut to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund – the primary source of Federal investment for our nation’s wastewater infrastructure.  Unfortunately, this proposal marks a clear reversal of recent bi-partisan efforts to increase investment in our nation’s failing and outdated wastewater infrastructure, and on efforts to improve our nation’s water quality.

In terms of job losses, this cut, alone, would eliminate over 39,000 direct, construction jobs throughout the country, and countless additional jobs in the industries and small business that support the wastewater construction industry at a time when many small businesses and the construction sector are struggling to recover.  Furthermore, this cut undermines longstanding federal efforts to address our nation’s aging infrastructure systems.

Mr. Chairman, I ask unanimous consent to include in the record a chart showing the direct state-by-state job losses under the Republican majority’s proposal to cut the Clean Water SRF.

I would like to highlight just a few additional programs where the cuts voted on by the Republican majority will have significant adverse impacts to the economy, could result in additional job losses throughout the nation, and place at risk the health of greater numbers of families.

First, the Republican majority has proposed to cut EPA’s brownfields site assessment and cleanup grants by 30 percent.  This popular, bi-partisan program provides valuable seed money to cities and towns throughout country to restore abandoned or underutilized properties, to promote economic redevelopment, and to return commercial properties to local tax rolls.  Estimates suggest that the Republican proposal will result in 300 fewer properties being assessed during the current fiscal year, 20 fewer sites being cleaned-up, and a potential loss of over 1,500 additional jobs and approximately $300 million in leveraged redevelopment funds. 

The Republican majority has also proposed to cut EPA’s Superfund budget by $32 million dollars.  This program, which was created by this Committee to clean up the nation’s most toxic waste dumps, is critical for protecting public health and the environment from exposure to hazardous substances.  While the exact number is not yet known, EPA expects that the Republican proposal to reduce funding for this program will result in fewer cleanups being undertaken, will increase the risk that our communities and families remain exposed to toxic chemicals and substances, and could lead to the layoff of countless cleanup workers.

Finally, the Republican majority has voted to pull-back on EPA’s compliance and enforcement capabilities, making it far more difficult for the agency to identify and pursue serious violations impacting public health and the environment in communities across the nation.  According to estimates, the Republican’s continuing resolution could result in the loss of as many as 100 compliance and enforcement personnel, 1,000 fewer inspections across all media (air, water, wastes, and toxics), and the loss of millions of dollars to the U.S. Treasury from foregone fines, penalties, and settlements from the most egregious violations.

In my view, this proposal stands in stark contrast to the agency’s efforts to increase compliance in critical areas within a limited budget, and suggests that a weakened compliance and enforcement presence is somehow better for the nation.

These are just a few examples of the potential negative impact of the Republican continuing resolution on our nation’s economy and on jobs.

Mr. Chairman, as I said earlier, I recognize the challenging economic times facing this nation.  In my view, this administration has taken a pragmatic approach to respond to our economic situation, at the same time as prioritizing the programs and policies that preserve its core missions of protecting public health and the environment while reducing air and water pollution.

However, contrast the administration’s efforts with the draconian cuts proposed by the Republican majority in the continuing resolution.

In my view – as well as a great many respected, non-aligned economists – the cuts proposed by the new majority will result in immediate and significant job losses, will significantly weaken national efforts to emerge from the last recession stronger than before, and will shift the balance from protection of public health to protection of the polluters.

In short, these cuts take the nation in the wrong direction at the wrong time.

I yield back the balance of my time.