By Tom Kleckner
HOUSTON — EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler on Monday defended the Trump administration’s proposed 31% cut to his agency’s budget, saying it’s a “common-sense budget proposal.”
“We can accomplish our mission at that level,” Wheeler said, following an appearance at CERAWeek by IHS Markit. “It takes out some of the more voluntary programs and duplicity [sic] in statutes and programs.”
The 2020 budget would slash EPA funding from $8 billion to $6.1 billion. The reduction is similar to the administration’s previous two budgets, neither of which Congress enacted. This budget is considered DOA with the Democrats now in control of the House of Representatives.
The White House said it wants to ensure clean air and water and chemical safety, while “reducing regulatory burden and eliminating lower-priority activities.”
Wheeler highlighted a $50 million grant program EPA wants to establish for communities with aging school facilities, with the intention of creating safer and healthier environments.
The EPA says it wants to focus on investing in water infrastructure, efficiently cleaning up Superfund sites, strengthening protections from toxic chemicals and continued regulatory and permitting reforms.
In comments to the CERAWeek audience, Wheeler called for the American energy industry to promote its environmentally-conscious process and procedures “that are better than anywhere else in the world.”
“Our natural gas, oil, coal and fossil fuels are extracted in a more environmental-friendly manner here,” he said. “That should be a selling point for anyone selling energy around the world to adopt our programs.”
Wheeler was confirmed as the EPA’s administrator last month, replacing scandal-ridden Scott Pruitt. He has been serving as acting administrator since July and worked at the agency from 1991 to 1995. (See Wheeler Confirmed to EPA on 52-47 Vote.)
“Some of the issues we were dealing with in 1991 are the same ones we’re still looking at today,” he said. “It’s just become much more politicized over the last 30 years, which is a shame. We’re doing a lot of things for the environment Republican administrations just don’t get credit for.”
Asked to explain the reason for that by moderator Daniel Yergin, IHS Markit’s vice chairman, Wheeler said the environment has become a large campaign issue and “money-maker” for the political parties.
“I think that’s what’s created the partisan divide in Congress,” he said.