It’s no longer just Democrats speaking out against President Donald Trump’s proposal to decimate the Environmental Protection Agency. At a House Appropriations subcommittee meeting on Thursday, several Republican congressman grilled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt about program cuts within Trump’s budget, which slashes the EPA’s funding by 31 percent—the highest percentage cut to any federal agency. The proposal would eliminate numerous programs intended to protect public health and the environment, and axe more than 3,000 jobs.
The first came from Rodney Frelinghuysen, a Republican from New Jersey, who noted that his state has the most highly contaminated Superfund sites of any in the country. Trump has proposed cutting the Superfund program by 25 percent—something that Pruitt has said he supports, despite also saying that Superfund cleanup is his biggest priority as EPA administrator. “It’s good to move with caution before you take too many dramatic steps,” Frelinghuysen said.
The next lashing came from David Joyce, whose criticism was likely the toughest of the hearing. The Ohio Republican slammed Trump’s budget for proposing to eliminate the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, an Obama-era program that has so far provided $2.2 billion to restore and protect the lakes. “This work wouldn’t happen without federal support,” Joyce said, noting the cleanup has been widely seen as an economic boon to the entire Great Lakes region. He added that “many cleanup projects will not move forward” if the program is eliminated.
Even Congressman Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican who worked closely with Pruitt when Pruitt was the state’s attorney general, had to admit he had serious concerns about some of the cuts. Though he first made sure to spend several minutes praising Pruitt for his integrity and hard work, Cole then said he could not abide by steep cuts to the agency’s Indian General Assistance Program, which gives money to federally recognized tribes so they can mange their own environmental protection programs and develop effective solid and hazardous waste management.
“That worries me,” Cole said, noting the U.S. is obligated to provide that support under treaties with tribes. “We’ve made certain commitments.” He even made a moral argument for keeping the program fully funded. “The biggest recipients tend to be the poorest tribes,” he said.
Pruitt responded to Cole the same way he responded to pretty much everyone who took issue with Trump’s budget. “I look forward to working with you and the chairman and ranking member to address those concerns,” Pruitt said. Pruitt also indicated multiple times that the end goals of environmental programs could still be achieved even if those programs were completely eliminated.
Trump’s budget will eventually have to be approved by Congress, and if Thursday’s hearing with Pruitt made anything clear, it’s that Congress is unlikely to approve the funding request as is. Cole acknowledged as much when addressing Pruitt. “I can assure you you’ll be the first EPA administrator in history who will get more money than you asked for,” he said.