Opening Statement of Ranking Member Barbara Boxer

EPW Hearing on “Oversight of the President’s FY 2017 Budget Request for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency”

April 19, 2016

 (Remarks as prepared for delivery)


I would like to welcome Administrator McCarthy and thank her for being here today to discuss the President’s FY 2017 budget request for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).   

EPA’s work implementing our nation's landmark laws to address clean air, children's health, safe drinking water, toxics, and water quality in America's lakes and rivers is essential for public health and safety.  

I am pleased that EPA's budget request of $8.27 billion includes a $127 million increase above the FY 2016 enacted level.  But we need to remember that seven years ago, EPA's budget was $10.3 billion, and the FY 2017 budget request that we will discuss today is a 20 percent cut from that level.  EPA is being asked to do more with less, and we should keep that in mind. 

It is important that EPA continues to focus on combating dangerous climate change.  Climate change is happening now, and the impacts are all around us.  For example, 2015 was the hottest year on record, 15 of the 16 warmest years on record have occurred in the 21st century, and sea levels are rising many times faster than they have in the last 2800 years. 

EPA also has a critical responsibility to ensure drinking water is safe.  The American people have a right to expect they will not be poisoned when they turn on their faucets.  The lead poisoning of children in Flint is a national tragedy that we must commit to never let happen again. 

The State of Michigan failed the people of Flint and is primarily responsible for the drinking water crisis.  It ignored multiple warnings that it was poisoning its own citizens.  EPA has a responsibility to speak out when it sees actions being taken that could harm public health.  EPA could have done more.  I hope that the actions taken by EPA since the Flint crisis will help prevent similar tragedies from taking place in the future. 

The events in Flint demonstrate that we still have a long way to go in providing safe, reliable drinking water to all Americans and in cleaning up the waterways that serve as sources of our drinking water.  Aging drinking water pipes and waste treatment systems are a nationwide problem.  The American Society of Civil Engineers gives our country’s drinking water and wastewater infrastructure a “D”.  And the American Water Works Association (AWWA) estimates that approximately 7% of homes -- 15 to 22 million Americans -- have lead service lines.  This is unacceptable. 

We must continue to invest in improving the nation’s failing water infrastructure.  I want to commend EPA for proposing funding for the Water Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Act (WIFIA), which was created in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014.  This new financing tool will help leverage private financing for critical drinking water and wastewater infrastructure projects and can be an important complement to the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds.   

However, WIFIA is not a replacement for the State Revolving Funds.  I am concerned about the inadequate levels of funding proposed for these programs.  Our nation's water infrastructure needs far outstrip the funding available, and the proposed $257 million cut to the State Revolving Funds will make this funding gap grow. 

Administrator McCarthy, you have a tough job, but the American people support EPA’s mission.  In poll after poll, American voters are clear that they favor EPA’s efforts to address climate change, clean up the air, and protect the water waterways that provide drinking water to 117 million Americans. 

EPA is doing essential work -- providing clean air, clean water, and a healthy planet today and for future generations.  This is an important hearing, and I look forward to hearing from Administrator McCarthy today.