Oversight Hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency's Fiscal Year 2015 Budget
March 26, 2014
(Remarks as prepared for delivery)
I welcome Administrator Gina McCarthy to this oversight hearing on the 2015 budget for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
EPA's mission is to protect public health and the environment through programs that address clean air, children's health, safe drinking water, toxics, and water quality in America's lakes and rivers.
Like other federal agencies, EPA has been asked to do more with less because of funding cuts. Five years ago, EPA's budget was $10.3 billion, and the FY 2015 budget request that we will discuss today has been reduced to $7.9 billion - a 23 percent cut. I am particularly concerned about the proposed cuts to the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds and the Diesel Emissions Reduction grant program. These programs are critical to protecting public health.
In addition to funding cuts, EPA has faced other challenges in recent years, including a rogue career employee, John Beale, who has been sentenced to prison for defrauding the American taxpayers. I appreciate the work that the Office of the Inspector General did to ferret out this employee, and I would also like to commend Administrator McCarthy for bringing his outrageous actions to light. EPA has over 15,000 employees, and just like any other organization -- private, public or even the military -- there are bound to be a few outliers who must be held accountable.
But with thousands of dedicated employees, EPA has demonstrated repeated success at improving our families' health by keeping the nation's air and water clean and safe. For example, in 2010 alone the clean air standards and programs under the Clean Air Act:
o Prevented 13 million lost work days;
o Prevented more than 160,000 deaths from air pollution;
o Prevented 3.2 million lost school days;
o Prevented 1.7 million asthma attacks.
Environmental safeguards are not only good for public health, but also good for the economy. Over the last 40 years, air pollution has dropped 68 percent, while our national GDP has grown 212 percent. And for every dollar we invest in complying with the Clean Air Act, we get more than $40 of benefits in return.
A responsible budget must not lose sight of our top priorities, including protecting the health and safety of the American people. What is at stake if we do not have adequate safeguards in place?
Just look at West, Texas, where 15 people died in a chemical explosion. Or look at West Virginia, where a chemical spill contaminated the water supply for 300,000 people.
By taking preventive action, we can help communities avoid similar disasters. I intend to move forward with a bill I introduced with Senators Manchin and Rockefeller, the Chemical Safety and Drinking Water Protection Act, which will strengthen existing safeguards where they have proven clearly inadequate.
EPA is doing essential work on behalf of the American people, including efforts to address the threats posed by climate change - our children and grandchildren's future depends on it.
I also want to thank EPA for proposing a rule to clarify the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. Many colleagues on both sides of the aisle, along with dozens of organizations, including Ducks Unlimited, the Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, the Farm Bureau, the National Mining Association, and the National Association of Home Builders, have repeatedly called on EPA and the Corps to go through a formal rulemaking to clear up the uncertainty created by two confusing Supreme Court decision. This proposed rule will now proceed through an open and transparent process where all views can be heard - including those whose views differ from yesterday's proposal.
The proposed rule ensures protections for the wetlands and small streams that can be a source of drinking water for over 117 million Americans. For the first time, EPA has listed bodies of water that are exempt from this regulation, including upland ditches, artificial lakes or ponds, reflecting pools, and swimming pools.
EPA has a record that Americans can be proud of - clean air, clean water, and a healthy planet are shared values and their work is supported by a huge percentage of the American people. I look forward to hearing from Administrator McCarthy today.