U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy will visit Capitol Hill this week to discuss her agency's fiscal 2015 budget request, which combines substantial cuts to popular loan programs with new spending on climate efforts destined to draw fire from Republicans.
She will appear before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday, and the House Appropriations subpanel on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies on Thursday.
President Obama's budget, released March 4, would provide $7.9 billion for EPA -- a 3.7 percent reduction compared with current levels (Greenwire, March 4).
The largest proposed reductions would come from the Drinking Water and Clean Water state revolving funds, which provide cash to states for water infrastructure projects. The programs, which enjoy support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, would be funded at $1.8 billion for fiscal 2015 -- $581 million below enacted levels.
But this year's budget is the first to request funding for the president's Climate Action Plan, released last year. It asks to shift $10 million and the equivalent of 24 full-time EPA employees to "education and outreach" activities related to the climate plan. It also prioritizes funding for grants to support upcoming carbon dioxide rules for existing power plants, which the agency is set to release by June 2. The total proposed investment in climate-related activities is $199.5 million.
McCarthy is likely to field climate-related questions from Republican members of both the Senate environment panel and the House Appropriations subcommittee, who will use the hearings to air concerns about EPA rules they have called costly and overreaching.
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who serves as ranking member on the Senate panel, has charged EPA repeatedly over the past year with manipulating data in order to justify tougher rulemakings. Most recently, Vitter sent a letter last week to the agency's scientific integrity official Francesca Grifo, accusing EPA of having "stonewalled" Congress by failing to produce data supporting several of its recent air regulations (E&ENews PM, March 17).
Vitter has also established himself as one of the chamber's top opponents of EPA's September proposal to regulate carbon from future power plants and its upcoming rule for existing power plants. Vitter argues that carbon capture and storage technology is not yet available to allow industry to meet the proposed mandate.
"They're moving forward with a controversial rule to regulate carbon based on technology that isn't commercially available," Vitter said in a January statement. "Not only is this wrongheaded, it's beyond the scope of their legal authority."
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) sounded the same theme at the committee's January hearing on the Climate Action Plan.
"The actions of this administration's EPA to wipe out coal -- and eventually natural gas -- is costing thousands of jobs and is driving up energy costs for many of the most vulnerable people in this country," he said.
Referring to coal-reliant counties in Kentucky, Wyoming, West Virginia and Ohio, he said: "When you wipe out the jobs in these communities and you drive up electricity costs, you create poverty, period. Folks back in those counties wonder why the EPA is making these decisions that deliberately hurt them."
Republicans may also use the hearing to pepper McCarthy with questions about her knowledge of former EPA official and fake CIA spy John Beale, serving time in prison for defrauding the agency out of almost a million dollars for work he didn't do.
On Thursday, McCarthy will visit the GOP-controlled House, to address an Appropriations subcommittee that has voted numerous times to attach policy riders to spending bills curtailing EPA rules on carbon dioxide, mercury, smog and soot. The subpanel has not seen its annual spending bill for EPA and the Interior Department clear the full House in the last three years, however, and very few environmental policy riders have been enacted as part of the appropriations process.
Schedule: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing is Wednesday, March 26, at 10 a.m. in 406 Dirksen.
Witness: U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
Schedule: The House Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee hearing is Thursday, March 27, at 10 a.m. in 2359 Rayburn.
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