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tv   EPA Administrator Testifies on 2020 Budget  CSPAN  April 8, 2019 9:03pm-10:44pm EDT

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good morning everyone the committees will come to order. we are kicking off the first of our hearings as they relate to interior appropriations and you are invited as guests congratulations administrator we learned of your recent confirmation and thank you for being here this morning along with holly graves to discuss the year 2020 budget request for the environmental protection agency pours for those on the committee it is always good to sit the first of the hearings the order of process we always follow the earlybird rule as long as i have been chairman so we will call on members in order in which they arrive going back and forth five minutes he is a serious earlybird and we recognize and appreciate that.
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you are correct in that i am the one that is late i am not the earlybird this morning so i am going to defer to you when we start off. the gold this morning and the reason we didn't start earlier is we know we have a joint session that we are required to be asked to be here at 1040 and i know the administrator is hoping to attend that as well so i would like to wrap this up by 1030. i know there are a lot of different appropriations subcommittee meetings at the same time, we may both be popping in and out of them. it is good to start a little earlier. when i am home i see firsthand the impact of epa on the lives of alaskans when it comes to the health of our communities. from my contaminated sites to ensuring clean drinking water the epa touches the lives of americans every day and that is why supporting the epa core responsibilities of clean air
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clean water clean and, clean land is so important. i appreciate the work that you have done and returning it back to a basics management approach instead of pushing a one-size- fits-all regulatory agenda that exceeds the statutory authority of the epa. we have seen within this administration a shift back to prioritizing programs with on the ground cleanup and real environmental benefits. i think you are on the right track. the agency leadership must continue to implement a regulatory agenda that supports responsible development and robust environmental protections achieved through a cooperative federalism approach with these dates and in consultation with the tribes. whether it is the work the agency has done in revising the roads rural or addressing the important information of climate change we must be partners in supporting the responsibilities of the agency. returning to the fy 2020 budget
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, the budget requests 6-point $1 million a nearly 30% reduction. the agency's proposal is similar to past requests from this administration and i underscored that it is just that, it is a proposal. while i appreciate this budget recognition of budgets recognition of programs with bipartisan support many of the reductions in my view would be inconsistent with some of the back to basics approach as i just mentioned. many of the grant programs are critical to epa's core mission of protecting the health of our communities are proposed for significant reductions. these programs lead to tangible environmental and human health benefits by supporting contaminated sites cleanup, financing drinking water and sanitation infrastructure. i've worked hard with folks in my state over the years to really make sure that we are doing right by some of these smaller programs that really do
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have on the ground benefit and impact. the targeted airship grants program, which is helping to reduce air pollution for alaskans, particularly in fairbanks has been eliminated in this budget. that is something we have seen the very directly impacting. i have a letter of support from one of the agencies up north reminding us that they visit one of the few areas they have been able to make headway there. the alaskan native village program proposed an 85% reduction even though this money is critical to supporting the water infrastructure it needs of native alaskans who now face some pretty incredible costs of living based on transportation due to the remoteness. the epa programs like this help meet those challenges. i will continue to provide my attention and support to them. the agency's budget request makes large reductions to state grant programs such as the clean water and drinking water
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state revolving fund. i know it is a concern to many of my colleagues and i appreciate this request includes a proposal for a new $50 million grant program to study and resolve environmental hazards in our nations --. i think this is something that is a mission well deserving of our support so i am pleased that is in there. i do understand the tough budget environment this proposal is crafted in. the final budget for epa drafted by congress i think will look substantially different. as i mentioned earlier congress is a critical partner of the epa protecting the health of our communities and addressing the many environmental needs of our country. i look forward to working with you on implementing the budget that congress will provide epa for fy 2020. in closing i would like to thank you for your commitment to continue working with me on a number of the more uphill issues that face our state like fish grinding, small rebuilt incinerators and fairbanks. you've heard about all of the
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many many times and know i will be asking some questions about them this morning. i will turn to my ranking member now senator and as i do i just want to acknowledge since your announcement you will be retiring at the end of this congress please know it has been a privilege and presser pleasure to work with you and your team on the subcommittee. i know we have a lot of work to do before we do serious thank you's but as we are kicking off the beginning of this appropriations cycle please know how much i appreciate the good work and relationship we've had. >> thank you madam chair and it was a real pleasure always to work with you. administrator wheeler welcome today as you're hearing your hearing as the epa
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administrator. it is a different day from where we sat here one year ago with your predecessor. i want to acknowledge your efforts to restore basic communication with the congress. while we have our disagreements i do appreciate that today we can focus on the mission of the epa. it is no secret i opposed your nomination to lead the epa, i just don't think it is in the best interest of this country for a former industry lobbyist to be in charge of agencies that regulate their former clients on environmental policy or anything else. a lobbyist who has advocated for easing and even dismantling protections for public health and the environment. while you promise your previous work poses no conflict of interest with your current position your actions and leadership indicate that public health and the environment did not come first in your decision- making. mr. wheeler you have been narrowly confirmed by the senate and today you testify before us as the administrator of the epa. after nearly a year of experiences acting administrator now it is time to
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examine the record. i am relieved your predecessor is no longer dominating the news cycle with daily scandals but the bottom line is that i don't see much of a change in terms of policy. i'm deeply troubled as acting administrator and now as the confirmed administrator you are continuing to implement this administration's devastating environmental agenda. first and foremost this administration has abandoned all efforts to fight climate change and you personally doubled down on that by denying climate change is even a major crisis. mr. wheeler climate change is a major and very real crisis. in fact climate change is by far the most pressing crisis of our time. people are losing their homes their land their farms. we now have a new kind of refugee climate refugees, displaced from their homes by catastrophic weather disasters like drought and floods. in the last less precipitation,
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rivers and reservoirs are running at historic lows, dry conditions are creating more wildfires. two the historic devastating floods in the midwest happening as we speak. in puerto rico the death toll from the destructive hurricane maria was 2975 american lives. the planet and people living on it are suffering especially those who can least afford to adapt. yet instead of recognizing reality right out of the gate this administration began an all-out assault on efforts to fight climate change by blocking commonsense proposals to limit emissions for power plants, by halting efforts to control methane from oil and gas operations by weakening fuel economy standards by walking away from the paris climate record. if you do not change course this will be your legacy and i don't think history will look upon this record very kindly.
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it is not just climate policy that is so devastating, it seems there isn't one rock overturned at the epa where this administration hasn't taken and the opportunity to rollback public health and environmental protections to benefit corporations and industry. just recently the agency dramatically scaled back proposed limits on the deadly chemical in painted strippers. while the chemical will be taken off the shelves and home improvement stores the people who face the most risk, workers exposed to this neurotoxin every day, still have zero protections. at the center of this administration's action plan to protect the public from related chemicals which are associated with cancer, autoimmune diseases and even resistance to vaccines, is a vague promise to start thinking about setting health standards sometime soon.
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meanwhile an estimated tens of millions of americans are drinking water that contain these substances at levels much higher than what independent scientists and even the cdc considered to be safe. that is not to mention impacts like the farmers into mexico that are being forced to destroy hundreds of thousands of gallons of contaminated milk and euthanize thousands of cattle. the epo epa also recently declared it is no longer appropriate to limit mercury and other toxic air pollution. pollution that is known to poison fetuses in children, the epa decision paves the way for undermining public health standards. that is why it immediately drew bipartisan opposition in congress and contrary to a court order epa recently decided to let the hard rock industry assume financial responsibility for the
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environmental costs of doing business even though damages from abandoned mines have cost taxpayers billions of dollars. a nonpartisan government accountability office just recently reported epa political appointees directly interfered with epa scientists important work related to evaluating the hazards of chemicals we come in contact with every day. we are still waiting for epa to make good on its promise to take care of people and farmers including new mexicans and members of the navajo nation who were harmed by the minds bill, another promise broken. when it comes to the budget it is just one more -- the administration for the third year in a row proposes devastating cuts to the epa . it is unconscionable to me the agency responsible for protecting public health would propose to scale back on the very scientific research that helps us identify threats and
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understand and to minimize them. this budget request two 43% to epa research . deposit budget also proposes a cut of 12% to the enforcement laws designed to protect the water we drink and air we breathe. the proposed cut to enforcement even includes criminal activities like illegally dumping sewage and doing that into drinking water sources. i fail to understand how we need less investment in keeping environmental cops on the beat. the budget exposes the administration's rhetoric about deferring the state level environmental efforts is completely phony. the budget proposes two more than a third, a total of one .5 billion from states and tribes get another fake promise from this administration's infrastructure funding. a quick look at the budget request shows an $875 million cut to water infrastructure, that is more than a 30% cut.
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i would like to talk about these proposed cuts today but to be honest i am tired of the now commonplace responses from the representatives of this administration in budget hearings. we hear repeatedly year after year that they would be quote happy to work with congress on final spending levels, it is a wink and nod that the budget request is it really real. i submit to you that makes a mockery of the process. budgets are statements of policy priorities and proposed cuts of this terrible degree, show us in clear print what this administration is about. industry comes before public health and environmental protection? there is no wink or nod or announcement any rally that can undo that. i continue to be thankful this committee has stuck together and really appreciate working with the chairman on priorities
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that the american people care about and doing things on a bipartisan basis. rejecting these drastic proposals but the agency is still suffering. morale is at an all-time low among epa scientists and other experts and staffing levels are low because despite congress rejecting budget cuts the agency is not hiring new staff when previous staff depart. i know you have a lot to say today on your funding priorities for epa , important things we can all agree on like improving the health of school facilities and reducing lead in drinking water. i want to be clear these shouldn't and won't distract the american people from the failures of this administration to fight climate change and protect public health. i look forward to our discussion today and thank you madam chair for those kind comments early on and i look forward to working with you through this budget process. >> thank you. administrator wheeler you have
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a lot that goes on within the department and a lot that is as you know and we know very important to people throughout the nation. if you would please commence your comments this morning with regards to the president 2020 budget. >> thank you. good morning members of the subcommittee. i am joined today by my cfo and we are here today to discuss epa's proposed 2020 budget. the budget request ensures the agency can continue president donald trump's agenda in the tremendous progress we've made over the past two years. the u.s. is a global leader in clean air and access to safe drinking water and we are cleaning up contaminated lands that the fastest pace in over a decade. at the same time epa has finalized 38 deregulatory actions saving americans more than $3 billion in regulatory
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costs. we have an additional 39 actions and developments to say billions more. the trump administration is proving environmental protection and historic economic growth can go hand in hand. i believe water issues from drinking water to marine weather or infrastructure are the largest and most immediate environmental issues effecting the world today. the budget request provides critical support for water quality protection. one challenge we face is lead exposure. through the new lead federal action plan the epa is coordinating with counterparts to reduce childhood lead exposure. on monday we issued a status report to hold ourselves accountable to the public and clearly communicate the steps we have taken to implement the action plan. to bolster these efforts the budget proposes $50 million to establish a new healthy schools grant program to reduce exposure to lead or other
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toxics in schools. we are also moving forward to update the lead and copper roof for the first time in over two decades. our proposal will ensure we address the most corrosive pipes and at risk communities first. and other challenges addressing potential sources of contamination. in february the epa released its action plan the most comprehensive multimedia research and action plan ever issued by the agency to address an emerging chemical concern. millions of pounds of waste enter our oceans each year harming marine life and coastal economies. the epa's trash freewater's program is stepping up to help the international community capture marine litter or prevent it from reaching the ocean. the president's budget includes a 25% increase to from last year's request. this new program has already producing tremendous results.
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to date epa has issued eight loans totaling more than $2 billion in federal credit assistance. last week we announced our third round of funding which could support $12 billion in water infrastructure projects and create more than 180,000 jobs. to expand on these efforts president donald trump signed america's water infrastructure act . while funding for was not included in appropriations congress acted. the epa proposes funding of $83 million in this budget request to begin implementation of the law. the budget request also includes approximately $2 billion in federal dollars towards the two --. the combination of federal grants, state matches, repayments and interest all flew back into each revolving fund creating $80 billion in the nationwide fund as of today. that is well beyond the annual
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-- investments. regarding the great lakes restoration initiative as the president stated this is a unique and important program and i fully support his decision as it relates to funding the program. when it comes to reducing air pollution we are moving forward with common sense reforms that will have more communities reach attainment of the next standards. we are set to announce the cleveland area is not meeting the standards for particulate matter later this week. the cleanup of contaminated lands also plays a crucial role in revitalizing communities throughout the country. in fiscal year 2018 the epa deleted all or part of 22 sites on the national priorities list, the largest number of deletions in one fiscal year 2005. our next responsibility is and shoring chemicals used in commerce and sold on the marketplace are so for public use here i am proud to report epa continues to meet with major statutory deadlines.
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earlier this month we finalized a ban on the retail sale of methylene chloride for consumer paint and coating removal, that is the first action under section six of the. two inshore efforts were effective and durable the epa has a healthy and robust enforcement program. at one end of the spectrum we are increasing compliance through self audits which are often the quickest way to correct environmental harms. at the other end we are deterring on noncompliance by increasing the number of new criminal cases, reversing a downward trend that began in 2011. we want the public to know when they encounter environmental threats we will address them head-on and we want the world to know that when they encounter environmental threats we are ready to help. this type of leadership gives confidence to the public, the regulated community and our allies around the globe. thank you for the opportunity to speak today and i look forward to answering your questions. >> thank you.
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let me begin my questions. this relates to something senator udall has raised and i raised it by way of letter and many on the committee have because so many around the country are realizing the challenges our communities are facing when it comes to contamination. in my state we've got community as we are hearing from where they are seeing groundwater that has been contaminated with pfas largely due to chlorinated firefighting foam. if you release this pfas action plan there is promises out there with regards to declaring certain compounds as hazardous, but can you give the committee some estimate in terms of epa's timeline for listing pfas or
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any of the compounds as hazardous substances? what are these comprehensive steps you've indicated in your testimony this morning that there will be a media rollout, what will we see? >> [ indiscernible - low volume ] first of all i want to assure you and the committee that while we are developing the hazardous waste as well as looking at the groundwater standards and looking to included fort releases we are still enforcing our health advisory at 70 parts per trillion. we've taken eight enforcement actions along with the state that we've assisted the states and local communities and dozens of other enforcement actions. where we see pfas, where we find it, where it is a threat to drinking water we are insuring it is cleaned up.
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we are using state-of-the-art mapping technologies to determine where we believe it is. we know where the chemicals were produced in large part and in parkersburg west virginia as well as cape fear north carolina we also know the areas it was used the most. a lot of airports, the department of defense facilities. we are using our tracking to map where we believe drinking water systems to identify the communities that may be at risk than helping them look to see if they do have a problem with their drinking water. where we are finding is we are enforcing, we are not stopping enforcement of cleaning up pfas where we find it while we work on additional tools . we have a number of tools we are already using and at the same time our research office is including is doing more research on identifying where the chemicals are, identifying which types, i believe there are over 2000 different pfas substances
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longchain and short-chain. we are trying to determine out of the most which have the most health risk and it is important to know the cleanup technologies depend on the type of pfas chemical compound is well. we can't use the same cleanup technology for all the compounds. i have been at a lab in north carolina and met researchers there. i met with researchers in regional labs and last week i was at our cincinnati lab where they are doing groundbreaking research on how to clean up the pfas chemicals and how to identify where they are and which ones are the most harmful to the public health. we are doing, we are setting the standards and working with the states and other agencies that have these standards and other health advisories for pfos and pfas. we are actually actively looking to see where it may be to help those communities and
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we are also conducting important research that will help us not only identify but identify which ones are the most harmful and identify how we cleanup with the best technologies to clean them up when we find them. >> i appreciate that of the. it is something that the folks i am talking to are like, we know that we have a serious issue here but how do we even get started? being able to identify map it and obviously know how to address it is going to be critically important going forward. i know you will have other questions on that. let me just ask one more quick question. this is something i never thought i would have to ask, i was born in alaska, it is a rain forest down there, it is truly a rain forest. in this rain forest we've seen a drought this past year. the communities surrounding our
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communities that primarily rely on hydroelectric power and they have faced significant energy shortages resulting from these drought conditions in a rain forest. it can't create enough. this is something we hope is not a new normal but what has happened is these are all communities again not connected by any kind of power grid or transmission system, they are all islands. they rely on diesel generation as backup for the community. epa gives title v air quality permits to powerplants that allow them to operate during certain hours by establishing allowable diesel generation operating hours. many of these plants in southeast alaska normally only use a fraction of this permitted operating hours in a
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year but because of what we've seen with the drought and our water reservoir levels so low we are seeing increased diesel generation use. what i need from you this morning is a commitment to basically work with us to see if there is any relief these communities may have in dealing with this this bump they are coming up against with regards to the operating hours. i don't know if there are other options out there but i would like you to be working with us on this. >> absolutely. we are working to provide regulatory for the owners and operators of these diesel generators in alaska and we plan to take action shortly to amend the regulations to remove the problematic requirements that are applying for remote areas of alaska. >> i appreciate that and i know
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the communities will look forward to that as well. senator. >> thank you madam chair. mr. wheeler i appreciate you being here. i want to ask about pfos, you guys said you were detecting it and would it have been banned? >> yes >> you are saying some of the material has been banned? >> yes some of the -- compounds but thousands of them. >> so i guess what i am saying is that if you are looking on detecting it and cleaning it up that is fine but why are we banning the cause so you don't have to do that so it is done? it causes cancer, is there a problem? >> these substances were banned a number of years ago but they
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are ambiguous in some products. >> so what you're saying is today the stuff used in the firefighting tools does not cause cancer or liver disease? >> i would have to get back you on the exact ones that are in the firefighting foam. >> i think it is much easier to do preventative medicine than it is to do post. >> we are looking at the use role for the pfos and i assure you we are reviewing the substitutes. >> thank you. >> are you familiar with -- >> >> yes. you know >> it has incredible impacts it is asbestos and a serious problem. you have a document coming out about risk evaluation for asbestos, you are familiar with that i assume? >> yes sir. >> it lays out how devastating asbestos is and that is the theme. do you plan on finalizing the
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risk evaluation by december this year? >> asbestos is one of the first chemical substances we are looking at. is very important -- >> you have a plan on finalizing that report? >> that is the goal. >> okay. >> we are shut down in january. >> this budget also cuts that review account i 20%, nearly 1/3 . is that going to have any impact on finalizing the risk evaluation report? >> no it should not have an impact on finalizing it. we know there is a gap. >> how long, how long after the risk evaluation report has been finalized do you anticipate it will take full asbestos off the market? >> as i noted we also have a use rule to try to stop importation of new asbestos products into the u.s.
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>> i want to know when it's going to be rolled out >> early 90s. >> we have people dying from this okay and it isn't a pleasant death. why is it out there? everyone knows what the problem is, why are we pulling it off the market. you are doing a risk evaluation he said it would be done by december, shouldn't it be pulled off the market? that risk evaluation will be rocksolid no-brainer because the evidence is there. how long will it take you to pull it off? >> i can't prejudge a risk assessment before it is finished. >> so if it is rocksolid how long will it take? >> if it is rocksolid we will move quickly to pull it off the market. >> is that a month? >> i would have to get back to you on the exact time. we are dealing with a new topic which has never been implemented before. ever put through the program. >> asbestos has been around a long time though. >> -- [ inaudible ] >> i've got it and i appreciate that but because they did it
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doesn't mean we shouldn't. clean air clean water something really important. let's talk about water. your predecessor said the cleanup would be one of his top priorities and by the way for all of the criticisms from your credit predecessor he was actually moving forward with that cleanup in berkeley in a positive way talking with people on the ground doing some things that are positive. is that still a priority for you? >> absolutely. >> thank you. >> over 20 years. >> i appreciate that. right now has one employee on the site for a few days a week, your superfund budget will become by over $800 million, how do you square that? >> looking at our budget looking at the resources we have the people and resources we need to get it cleaned up and is on schedule to be
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cleaned up. we don't believe the budget will impact that at all. >> so okay. so you're telling me that one employee on the site for only a few days a week now with this budget and the budget coming up next year made $100 million less is going to keep that on schedule for cleanup? >> that one employee is not the only employee working on this site. we have a montana field office. last week i was in denver and i had a conference call with butte and teams along with our denver staff who are working on cleaning it up and our dc staff. we probably have 30 staff involved in both of those sites. >> i appreciate your attention to it. i just want to make a quick comment but there is a piece of land that was west of missoula montana on the floodplain of
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river. i want to ask you to put it on your radar if it isn't already. this is a piece of property that has chemicals buried on it we don't believe the barrels have broken open yet and dumped into the but at the point they do it becomes a much more expensive cleanup and if there is an opportunity for you guys to get in there and there are some people live that know that site and find out where that stuff is as much as you possibly can it may save a lot of heartache down the road. thank you for being here. >> thank you sir. >> thank you madam chair and thank you mr. wheeler for being here for sure. thank you for taking the time to speak with me on the telephone i think it was march 21. that is a catastrophic flooding we are having in mississippi. you have been so [ inaudible ]
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opportunity to visit with you at length on the telephone so i appreciate you being accessible to me during that time. unfortunately the flooding which began february 15 continues today and we had acting administrators from epa to join me on a flight on march 19 two flyover with the corps of engineers to observe the damage and i certainly appreciate that time there because it has gotten worse since our conversation and at best it will be another month before the floodwaters fully reseed in the best of conditions. today more than 510,000 acres in this highly productive agricultural region is underwater. to put that into perspective that is about 789 square miles an area of more than 11 times the size of the district
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olympia. it is effecting homes, roads, bridges, churches, schools. there are snakes swimming in these facilities right now and overall health and public safety to the area residents. i've been over there more than once and what we are experiencing is truly catastrophic. hundreds of thousands of acres of agriculture and timberland suffered significant damage and will go implanted this season. i am talking to farmers almost daily better in ruins. the economic impact on agriculture alone will be in the hundreds of millions. similar flooding has occurred not once but 10 separate times since epa in 2008 prohibited the court from completing the final space of a 78-year-old comprehensive flood control effort. it has been going on as long as i can remember. because of this residents have lost their homes and businesses. roads and bridges have been destroyed. wildlife is dying, flying over
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we saw all of the wildlife on the levy because that was the only dryland they could get to. the habitat loss due to contaminated floodwaters, we can all agree decisions made in 2008 have not only failed to meet the intent with respect to the environment wildlife and habitat but also placed a tremendous burden on the lives of thousands of mississippians. i am so grateful you are giving this the attention you've given this. we have been looking forward to this day for a long time. you are certainly a light in a very dark area and i am grateful and i appreciate you for that. what comments will you give me that epa will work in good faith with the corps of engineers for providing adequate levels of flood protection promised to mississippians literally since
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1941? >> thank you senator and my heart goes out to your constituents and the people of mississippi with the flooding going on. we are working with the army corps of engineers and we are renewing the decision that was made in 2008 when we told them to plan for the pumps and trying to determine if and in particular with the latest flooding, the determination of work that went on in 2008 upon reviewing the project and we are reviewing more recent data and talking to the army corp of engineers. i am there on a daily basis to try to figure out how we can be helpful to you, your constituents and the army corp of engineers to make sure the flooding is addressed and that we don't have flood like this in the future. i would be remiss however, we have incredible emergency responders across the agency at
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our headquarters and regions and they respond to emergencies almost on a daily basis. most of them are very small, when a train derails, when there is a small still someplace but i would be remiss if i did not point out that we have not had the head of our emergency response office from this administration and we are waiting on the senate confirmation for the head of our emergency response that was needed 394 days ago. that is absurd we have waited so long to have the head of our emergency response, hope people will be confirmed before we hit the next hurricane season this year. >> thank you very much for your response and i look forward to working with you. i do think we can come up with some simple solutions. thank you for your work. >> thank you. >> thank you. >> thank you madam chair. mr. wheeler before we get into
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the budget i want to start with some housekeeping. this subcommittee requires our agencies to submit reprogramming's and reorganizations for approval. sometimes that process can take time depending on the scope of the proposal and the time it takes the agency to respond to our request for information. we require our agencies way to implement any reprogramming's or reorganizations until the subcommittee has completed our evaluations. can you commit in this simple yes or no that you and your staff will continue to follow these long-standing requirements? >> yes i believe we have. we are working on our reorganization with you and we first briefed your staff last september. >> can you commit to continuing to responding to requests from the minority? >> yes i believe we have responded to all of your requests and we will continue to do so. >> the budget request cuts nearly all funding for epa's geographic programs , these
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programs have made real measurable differences and environmental quality of water bodies such as the great lakes, the subcommittee last week at a rally in michigan the president says he now supports full funding, $300 million for epa's great lakes program . i consider that a remarkable reversal. i have to wonder if the president will make more announcements reversing his budget requests. you testified in the house committee yesterday that an amended budget request is in progress for the great lakes program is that correct? >> i believe what is says we are talking to them about what we need to convey -- >> you know the proper thing to do is to submit an amended budget request. we would expect you to do that
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for any of the others that he is planning on doing rather than playing favorites and going to particular places that are important in next year's presidential elections. >> we are working on that. they are the ones that submit the actual budget request. >> you know i just don't like the idea of playing favorites. i think all of these big national programs are funded because they are important on a regional basis. i know you are positioned generally to say all say all of the states should do that but the reality is all states were not doing it. congress stepped forward as a partner and that is the reason they keep funding these. i would like you to keep that in mind when you brief the president about the importance of these programs. i want to talk a little bit about the staffing crisis. this subcommittee is constantly hearing evidence that morale is at an all-time low among epa
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scientists engineers and other experts and staffing levels are dropping because despite congress rejecting proposed budget cuts the agency is not hiring new staff when previous previous staff to parts. i see this as an intentional effort to cripple the epa so badly that it effects well past this administration. the epa has lost 8.5% of its employees. the research office alone has lost a staggering 14% of staff and staffing in the field is suffering especially. the region that includes my home state of new mexico has lost nearly 12% of its staff and those numbers are from january. i don't have more recent data because epa has refused to respond to our request for more recent updates. mr. wheeler when you took over
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as acting administrator nearly a year ago you and i discussed the need for epa to maintain and cultivate experienced and qualified staff. you said one of your personal priorities was to make sure that happened but here we are a year later in numbers show staffing levels are falling deeper into crisis. we also sit here examining a budget request two another 1800 s.. is that really where you're going to take the agency? another 1800 level? is that where you think in terms of public health and the environment where the epa should be? 1800 people lower. >> [ inaudible ] i am concerned about making sure we have the right experts. >> the question is do you want to be 1800 people lower? that is what you put before the congress in your budget. >> we are focusing on our core missions at the agency and protecting public health and the environment, that is a number we believe --
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>> mr. wheeler with all due respect [ inaudible ] >> right expertise. >> i don't think you can do that with 1800 fewer employees. if you look at the history of the epa years, i mean we've bee dropping down dramatically, and there are a number of areas where you're not on public health issues and environmental issues stepping up to the plate and doing the right thing. are you aware, mr. wheeler, that congress has rejected the president's proposals to cut epa's budget and that we have provided nearly steady funding for epa's operating programs? >> yes, i am aware. >> yeah. and i don't think there's any doubt that the staff is the key. i mean these career people, you should realize it by now. if you really get into an issue, that's where you have to turn to
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find out what's going on. and i just think it's deplorable that we've dropped so far and that you're on a trend right now. with this budget you're here defending where you're going to cut another 1,800. i hope as we've done in the past -- i haven't asked a question yet. i hope as in the past on a bipartisan basis, that we can continue to see the good work that is being done and that we don't engage in this cutting just for the sake of cutting. and i yield back, madam chair. >> administrator wheeler, you looked like you were going to have one more comment there, but if you don't, i'm going to go to mr. van hollen. >> just a quick comment. the downward trend did start before this administration. the biggest issue we have is 40% of hour workforce is eligible to retire over the next five years. last year, we lost 30 people that were working on tosca.
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the challenge that we have is a high number of -- compared to other agencies and departments, people who are eligible to retire and are retiring and trying to bring on the people to replace them. the hiring process is a very long process to bring on new people in the federal government. it takes months to bring on a qualified scientist. as i said, we brought on 30 new people last year to work on tosca. we thought we were going to have enough people to work on it. at the same time, we had 30 people leave the agency. so we have a challenge, and i'm working very hard to address that challenge. thank you. >> let's go to senator van hollen, please. >> thank you, madam chairman. welcome, both of you. administrator wheeler, when you were up for your nomination hearing before the environment public works committee, you said for the record that, quote, the epa is fully committed to the chesapeake bay program. you haven't changed your position, have you? >> no, senator. >> you remain fully committed to that program and think it's a good program, right? >> yes, sir. >> i appreciate that because as you know, in the president's
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budget, he slashes the program from $73 million a year to $7.3 million. senator udall mentioned that when the president was out at the great lakes, he on the spot restored the $300 million cut. the other day, after secretary devos defended the cut to special olympics, the president reversed that. it does indicate that the whole process on the executive side of the ledger is a bit of a sham here, but i'm pleased that on a bipartisan basis this committee has continued to fund these important projects. you indicated that the mission of the epa was to protect the public health and the environment, and i assume you would agree that we should do that using the best science and the best evidence, is that right? >> yes, senator. >> so my question is when it comes to climate change, we just heard senator hyde-smith talk about the catastrophic flooding in mississippi. there's no doubt that we see
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more frequent and more intense extreme weather events. why you continue -- the epa continues to have taken down the epa -- the portion of the epa website dealing with climate change. when you go to epa.climate these days, you get a little headline saying, we want to help you find what you're looking for, and it goes on. it disappeared, the previous climate change portion of the website. >> it's my understanding that everything -- i've asked this question of our career technical people multiple times. everything that is every on the website on climate change is still available on the website. it's not highlighted to the same extent that president obama's epa highlighted it, but it is still on the website. >> mr. administrator, if you want to be taken seriously as an agency that believes in science, you wouldn't disappear the climate change website. yes, you've archived what was there before the trump
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administration. my understanding is when you look at your climate indicators page, you haven't been updating the graphs with the newest information. will you commit today that you will do that? >> i'll have to look into that. i'm -- >> would you be surprised to learn that the climate indicators page does not allow the graphs to be updated with the most recent information? >> it's -- i would have to look into that, senator. >> i would hope. i would hope that, you know, the credibility of the agency seems to me is on the line on these issues. people can have their own views, but when you've got the scientific very clear on this, the evidence is overwhelming, which leads me to another question, because i am worried about the fact that science is being displaced by sort of political science and political pressure in a number of places around the agency. there's an article. i don't know if you saw it this morning. it's headlined, if i worked as the epa, i'd resign.
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it's a column in "the washington post" by bernard goldstein. bernard goldstein was the chair of the clean air scientific advisory board in the reagan administration. he was then appointed by president reagan to be the head of epa's office of research and development. and there are seven members of the scientific advisory board, and he points out that they rely a lot on the scientific information provided by subcommittees to the board. and then he writes, that's how it's supposed to work. in other words, they're supposed to get input from the subcommittee experts. but last october, wheeler suddenly and high-handedly terminated the subcommittees working to develop recommendations for the particulate standards as well as the standard for ozone pollution, which is what this advisory board is going to review next. and he says for the first time, this advisory committee will
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lack a single epidemiologist. so my question is why? why eliminate the panel of experts? it seems to me it -- you know, it looks like another step to eliminate outside, independent expert opinion? >> absolutely not, senator. first of all, the clean air act 1999 amendment requires us to review -- we took a hard look at what was causing the delay. part of the problem was having the subcommittees which are not required under the statute took a lot of time to go back and forth between the subcommittee and the full case committee. so we streamlined the review, so we will get both of those reviews done within the five years. they will be done by the end of next year, which is the requirement under statute. >> if i could just ask, i understand. why not say to the subcommittee
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experts, he's your deadline, right? if you don't get us the information in time, then we're not going to be able to consider it, rather than -- >> previous administrations have done that. >> i'm asking why this administration wiped it out. >> because they weren't able to meet their deadlines. they were never able to meet the five-year dead line. but i've assured the head of casac that if you need outside scientific review, they're still allowed and are able and can reach out to epidemiologists and get additional input. but it is that formal subcommittee review process that took literally months and years. >> so are you wiping out all the subcommittees? >> yes, for the ozone and pm and then we'll see how that goes -- >> but you haven't wiped out the other ones. >> well, those were just -- those subcommittees are just for the review process under casac for the nax standards. as soon as the five-year review
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period is over, we start the next five-year review. but the agency has never met the deadline that is required under the clean air act. >> i think the concern is this combined with another policy you have where people who are providing, you know, contracts to the epa, scientists, you're not allowing them to participate, but you're allowing other sort of industry lobbyists to participate. i think i'd like to continue this conversation. >> i'm happy to. >> because the credibility of the agency clearly is being hurt here when you disappear the climate page, when it appears that important subcommittees of scientists are being eliminated. and just to end with a point that senator udall made, as i understand it, the assistant administrator for research and development position, which was what this gentleman held during the reagan administration, is unfilled, is that correct? >> it is. we've had a hard time filling
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positions because people look at how long the process takes, and they've told us no. you know, when you have the head of our superfund and emergency response has been waiting 394 days for confirmation, we literally have had people say we don't want to go through the senate confirmation process. the confirm process is broken, and i really hope it can be fixed on a -- >> well, there's the confirmation part of it. there's also the reality that lots of people have not been appointed. we can't go through a -- >> we've had people turn down because they look at -- >> the suggestion in this article from the person who held this position in the past is the reason scientists are not applying for the job is because they think their work will be subject to political oversight and not scientific. >> i completely -- i've never met him, and i don't know how he's formed these opinions about me. we've never had any conversations, so i'm not sure why he believes that. >> thank you. >> thank you, senator. i want to talk about some of the programs that have made a
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difference. you know, i'm listening to the comments from my colleague here, and while i respect the line of inquiry, what is on the website is not what people in alaska are talking about. they're like, what are you doing to fix pm 2.5? what are you doing on our fish grinding issue? what are you doing on these things that are making a difference? and so i want to ask you about some of them because there's some frustration here with epa. we have that in alaska. we have that throughout all of our states. but to know that we're making a little bit of headway there is important. i mentioned in my opening that when it comes to the pm 2.5 issue and how fairbanks in a geographically constrained area with really no viable options to folks for keeping their homes warm in the wintertime, turn to
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wood burning, and we've got some real particulate issues that we've been struggling with. the borough has been reclassified for non-attainment. there are states required to formulate and submit this air quality plan to demonstrate attainment by december 31. we've been struggling with this for years. and that's why i mentioned the targeted air shed grants. that has been the one thing that has been somewhat helpful to the fairbanks northstar borough in doing these wood stove change-outs. i'm working with senator carper now on our bill, the wood heaters emission reduction act. that's another little bright glimmer of hope. but what i need to know from you right now epa has been providing some technical assistance to the borough in formulating this plan that's due at the end of the year. people are very nervous. they're very anxious because
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there are very real, on the ground repercussions. so how is epa taking into account the unique situation that fairbanks faces with its geography, it's extremely low temperatures in the winter, and lack of access to cleaner fuels like natural gas? how are you working with the borough to address a plan by year end? >> fairbanks, as you know, has very unique issues, problems with the air quality. a lot of it's geographic, the way the city sits, and of course the wood burning heat sources as well. we're working very closely with not only the city of fairbanks but also the state to try to make sure they can submit a plan for the end of the year. as you know, we've been sued. the epa has been sued over this. if we're unsuccessful with working -- if we can't get the state implementation plan by the end of the year, we will be
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forced to work on a federal implementation plan, which is something we do not want to do. >> we do not want it either. >> yes. the obama administration issued more federal implementation plans than the previous four administrations combined. and our track record on phipps has been since march of 2017, we have turned one fip into a sipp on a monthly basis working with the states. so we have a very good track record of working with states and local communities to avoid fips and to aceh -- change fips back into sips. trying to provide additional tools, technical assistance as well, and we will continue to do that because our goal is to make sure that there is a sip in place before the end of the year. >> well, know that that is definitely what the borough is looking for. we need your help there. and, again, the sooner the
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better. so we look forward to some of these important conversations moving forward. one of the things that we have dealt with in this committee, in this subcommittee, is the issue of small, remote incinerators up north. >> mm-hmm. >> in very remote areas that are inaccessible by road. they're critical for solid waste disposal. the options for using solid waste disposal are substantially more difficult, really unfeasible up north in some of these areas. and this is something that year after year we've actually included language within our appropriations subcommittee bill that basically gives us just yet a little bit more time, this temporary relief problem. but i've gone to my colleagues on the subcommittee, on the house and the senate side, and
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i've promised them epa is working with us to resolve this. it's going to be resolved this year, and we won't need to worry about this. and i can't keep going back to my colleagues and saying, it's going to be resolved, it's going to be resolved. i really need to know that we will have an administrative solution on these, again, very few, but these small, remote incinerators. so can you give me some assurance that we're going to see resolve this year? >> we are certainly trying. this is another area we have to work with the state for a state implementation plan, and we're trying to make sure they have the data they need to submit a plan to us. >> i know that senator udall and congresswoman mccullum will be really pleased when i come to them and say, we don't need this anymore because we have resolved that. so we'll be working with you and the state on that. >> my ultimate goal is to make sure that all four of you are very pleased. >> well, that sounds leike a god
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goal. let me turn to senator udall. >> i just want a brief comment about the staffing issue that you talked about. first of all, labor economists have been predicting baby boomer retirement effects for decades. this isn't news. your agency has simply failed to plan and prepare and deal with the staffing deficit. my opinion is you've known this was coming. the people in the department have known it's coming. you promised us you were going to be on top of it, and you've failed on that front. one of the fundamental responsibilities of the epa is to enforce our nation's environmental laws, but this administration is literally taking the cops off the beat. administrative and civil penalties in fiscal year 2018 declined to the lowest level since epa established a dedicated enforcement office 25
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years ago. epa also initiated roughly 1,800 civil enforcement cases in fiscal year 2018, the lowest level in a decade. i know the administration's party line response is that it is focusing on compliance ahead of problems rather than after the fact enforcement. but the numbers don't tell that story. epa's own data indicates that the agency conducted 10,600 inspections in 2018, which is the lowest number in the last decade and less than half of the inspections conducted in the peak year of 2010. with fewer inspections, there are fewer opportunities to identify facilities that are out of com compliance. it really isn't more complicated than that. and this focus on compliance, the budget request you bring us today asks for a $12 million cut to compliance. that's a full 12% cut.
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this administration's money is not where its mouth is. mr. wheeler, the staffing levels for the headquarters enforcement office has plummeted by 19%. that's more than double the loss of the rest of the agency, and this subcommittee has not cut $1 from -- this subcommittee has not cut $1 from epa enforcement. it's clear to me that this administration is turning its back on enforcing our environmental laws. and while that's friendlier to industry, it's a five-alarm fire for our air quality and our water quality. mr. wheeler, if the administration's focus is on compliance and not enforcement, what are your specific goals and metrics to show that this approach will result in cleaner air and water, specific metrics and goals? >> absolutely. first of all, whether a state has primacy on environmental
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programs, they're the ones who generally do the ifnspections, which is why the inspection numbers have been going down since 2010. >> but also, mind you, the budgets that have come up here have savaged money to the states. i mean the budgets you've been presenting year after year, this administration, your partners are the -- you've delegated, but then you don't want to give them money to do the job. i don't know how you can get in this situation where you say, oh, we're going to let the states do it. but then when they're vital partners, it's very important for you to give them the money to do that. but focus in on the metric. >> sure. >> show me that what you're doing is providing cleaner air and water to the american public. >> the past metrics have focused on targeting industry sectors as a sector. what we are now targeting is non-attainment areas to get them to attainment. we're targeting impaired waters to get them to be safe drinking
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water. so we're focused on the environmental outcome, the pounds of pollution reduced because of our enforcement actions went up last year dramatically. we have stopped over -- for example, 1 million aftermarket defeat devices from being used on the cars here in the united states, which helps us on the non-attainment side because of the auto emissions contributing to non-attainment. in 2019, we've already stopped approximately 2,200 illegal vehicles and engines at the border. so what we're doing is trying to focus on areas where there's not attainment using our enforcement tools. i'd point out that last year the number of criminal cases went up for the first time since 2011. it's been on a downward trend, and we're reversing that trend. so, yes, we are focusing on compliance and audits at the beginning of the process, but we're making sure that if people are violating the law, we're taking actions including criminal action against them.
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so at both ends of the enforcement spectrum, but in the middle we are working with the states to provide them more tools so that they do inspections. when we do inspections and actually we just started this last year, and region eight is a pilot. our inspectors will go out inspecti inspecting. now we do the inspection and provide a written report back to the facility afterwards. that has cut down on some of the inspection times of our people because they're spending extra days working on the reports to give to the facility so they reach compliance faster. >> mind you, you've also sent a budget up here to set your compliance 12%. thank you, madam chair. >> thank you, senator. senator blunt. >> thank you, chairman. administrator, it's good to see you here. in september of '18, really in your first few weeks on the job, you dealt with a big problem that's been a problem in our state. it's a big enough problem that
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it had been on the superfund priority list for 29 years. hard to imagine anything that is really a priority is on the priority list for 29 years. >> absolutely. >> and you and your predecessor worked from day one, when you were the deputy administrator and now the administrator, to come to a conclusion and did. the local feedback from westlakes landfill, that area has been very positive. i think you've hit the right spot here to get this done. this morning, though, would you give me an update on what's going on there now and what are the next steps we need to take to get to the end of your planned way to deal with that? >> we have been working on the ground. we've already started the remediation. we're continuing to keep the local citizen groups updated on our progress, and at this point we are still on track of getting
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the site cleaned up and completed. >> is this a process of bidding someone to remove the things that are going to be removed? >> i believe so at this point. i can give you a better update afterwards, but i believe so. >> if you want to, take that for the record. then i'd like a sense of where you are now and maybe your projected calendar, how you're going to deal with those issues. let me talk about one more thing while you're here. under the rfs volume obligations, epa grants retroactively waivers. i think we've talked about this when you were confirmed. when you retroactively grant waivers and don't re-allocate the volume that those waivers would have represented, effectively you decide on your own to reduce the volume of
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ethanol that's out there. i think whenever we had your confirmation hearing, you said you're going to look at how that exemption process works and make sure that the exemptions are warranted. i think you also were going to outline the process for review and really look seriously at what happens when you give a waiver but there's no re re-allocation of that amount. i think you've got 39 pending waivers, and i'd just like you to talk a little bit about how you're going to look at those waiver issues. and if there's a way you can do this so that the legislated volume, or the volume actually that you have determined should be the right volume actually is either the volume that year or added onto the volume for the next year. >> well, senator, the small refinery exemption program,
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which is our process of providing waivers to the small refineries, which decreases the gallons on the rfs program is set up by statute. we've also -- previous administrations did not implement the program and the epa was sued three times and lost three times. >> mm-hmm. >> so we now have three court orders on how to run the program in addition to the statute as well as appropriations language at one point. but once we set the rvo for the year, for the following, year, which we've done on time for the last two years, first time that's ever happened. after that, when we receive the small refinery waivers, and those come in after the rvos are set, we don't have a process to go back and re-adjust the rvo. if we were to try to do that, they would probably send more small refiners into financial hardship based upon the number of gallons would then be spread out over fewer refineries.
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we have taken the move to be more transparent. >> but when you exempt the small refiners, don't you spread out the gallons over the larger refiners? >> no, we do not. and i believe that's near the crux of the issue is that we aren't redistributing the small refinery gallons back into the -- >> in the system? >> into the system, right. we don't have a mechanism to do that because we've already set the rvo for the compliance year, and that would throw all of the -- >> do you need to give yourself a mechanism or do we need to give you one, or is it just unreasonable to have that -- >> i think we'd need to be given that mechanism but it would be hard to implement something like that after the fact. on the 39 that you referred to, we haven't received those yet from the department of energy. the way the process works is they apply to the department of energy. the department of energy reviews the small exemption applications. they have given us a list of the small refineries that have
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applied this year, but they haven't given us their underlying rationale and recommendations yet for those refineries. so as soon as we receive those, we then process them and either move forward, either grant or deny the -- >> and when you do that, by the time you get to that, it's receipt oh active becau retroactive because the year is basically behind us, is that right? >> yes, that's correct. >> again, thank you for your leadership on west lakes and thank you for the last two years of getting that rfs number out on time. >> thank you. >> thank you, chairman. >> thank you, senator. senator merkley. >> thank you very much, madam chair. thank you, administrator wheeler, for coming before the committee. when you were being considered for nomination, i asked you on a scale of one to ten, with ten being very concerned, how concerned were you about climate change? and you responded an eight or nine, which means it's a pretty significant concern. so did you increase or decrease
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funding for climate programs in the 2020 budget as a result of your high level of concern about climate? >> i'm -- which climate programs are you referring to because we are still moving forward on our two big climate regulations. we should finalize those this summer. >> did you increase financing or decrease financing for the global change research program? >> the global -- yes. that has been eliminated, but we believe we can address those through our regulatory programs and other programs at the agency. >> and did you increase or decrease funding for the atmospheric protection program? >> that has been decreased. >> was that the $365 million decrease for air quality programs, or also you decreased other programs as well? >> i'm sorry. i'll have to get back to you on that specifically. >> okay. so if you have a high level of concern, how come you're cutting the funding for key climate programs? >> because we are moving forward
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on our two regulations, our ace regulation where we reduce co2 from power plants by 34%, and our cafe standard, which we plan to finalize later this spring or early summer where we do co2 emissions on par with what the obama administration -- >> let's turn to lead. you're probably aware that lead is one of the major health threats for young children in our country. >> mm-hmm. >> nearly half a million u.s. children ages 1 through 5 have blood levels at or above the five-microgram level, which is where the cdc recommends public health actions be taken. i think you probably understand that there's no safe blood level, but that this is a very serious impact on the developing brains of our children across america. and yet your 2020 proposed budget slashes epa's lead program. why? >> it's the lead paint, which is
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actually -- we work closely with hud. we are moving forward with our lead dust regulation. this should be finalized by june. then we're also proposing our lead and copper pipe rule, which is the first time that regulation has been modernized in over 20 years. so we are moving forward very aggressively on lead, but that particular lead program that you referred to, we found that within the administration, it was duplicative of what hud was doing. so we're deferring to hud on the lead paint. but we're moving forward on the regulations for lead dust, which again will be out in june. and we will be proposing a lead and copper rule this summer, which will go a long ways to reducing lead exposure to families. and we're looking at mandatory testing in both schools and daycare centers. >> that's funny because while you're talking about some future regulation, you're cutting the program for state and tribal assistance grants for lead testing in schools, which means less lead is detected, less action is taken.
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so the net impact is that more children get poisoned, and that's really unfortunate under your leadership that more children are going to be poisoned. >> we also requested $50 million for a healthy schools program, which will be works with schools, not just public schools and private skoochools, but als tribal schools to address lead and other contaminants located in the schools. >> the clean water and drinking water state resolving funds are something very valuable to my -- particularly my rural communities. when i go, i go to every county every year. i hold a public town hall. i meet with the commissioners and any other electeds beforehand, school board, city commissioners, so forth. almost always what comes up is the challenge of clean water supply and wastewater treatment. and it's just a critical piece of infrastructure. under your proposed budget, states would lose 31% of their
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potential funding under the clean water state revolving fund and the drinking water state revolving fund. i know that my rural communities are desperate for more assistance because it's so expensive for a small town to do a treatment center. you just can't spread the cost among enough residents in the smaller towns. so this is going to have a huge impact on infrastructure in rural america. why would you want to do that to rural america? >> well, the amount they're asking for for this year is at a reduction, but you have to remember that the overall funds currently available in the overall srfs across the whole country is $80 billion. we also asked for more funding for -- awia did not receive any money this year, but we're requesting $83 million for that. there's a number of different small grant programs in the new legislation. we know we've been successful on
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the srfs, but in order to reach more smaller communities, we think some of the funding mechanisms and the awia legislation might be very helpful there. so that's why we're asking for money for that legislation -- or for that new statute passed last fall. we're asking for $83 million for awia. we asked for an increase over our budget request last year for wifia, and the told amount of money available through the srfs, we're looking at $80 billion because every time we put money out through the srf, it's repaid. we're also earning interest on that. so that bank of money has increased substantially over the years. >> i am glad you mentioned wifia because it's an act that i wrote, and i'm pleased it's there. but unfortunately it's not working for small communities because the fees, administrative fees that are being charged by the administration are too high. i would like to encourage you to take a look and advocate with
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the administration how to make that program work for small communities. >> we are trying that. we've looked at trying to get a few small communities to band together for a loan. we're looking at in indiana, for example, where there's several small communities. but we think the new awia legislation might actually be better for small communities. that's why we requested money for awia. >> thank you. >> thank you, senator merkley. and thank you for clarifying that because i think we recognize certainly in my state that the opportunities with awia are considerable for the smaller communities. let's go to senator daines. >> thank you, senator murkowski. mr. wheeler, i want to commend you for your leadership of the agency and a renewed focus on achieving results for the american people. one area where montanans have really seen an increased focus is on our superfund sites. i am pleased you've ranked our butte silver bow and anaconda sites with the highest priority for cleanup and restoring to
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reuse. and our libby asbestos site with greatest potential redevelopment. that is direction from the top that montanans have long sought for. now we need to make sure the actions are executed effectively for montana. one aspect of the remedy involves the restoration of the butte silver bow creek side is restoring the creek to a natural stream. i've heard from epa and arco that there may be some limitations to restoring a full, functioning natural stream in this area. my question is what do we need to do in congress to remedy these obstacles. >> first of all, senator, thank you for showing me both of those sites last summer. i enjoyed that visit to montana, and it was really educational to see that firsthand. >> you were the first epa administrator to ever visit both of those sites. >> i believe in at least over 20 year. >> thank you. thank you for coming. >> i was very happy to do that, and it was very educational for me. we are working -- and i just actually had a briefing on this
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last week. i was in our denver office. i had a teleconference call with our montana field office, our denver people who are working on these sites and our d.c. people working on these two sites for an update. i have to be careful because some of this hasn't been announced yet, and we're working out the -- we're working out with arco and then the parties and we have to go back to the court for this as well. but we're trying to make sure that in the future if a water source is identified for the creek, that that would be a possibility. some of that, though, is not within the remediation side of a superfund side. so we are constrained in some aspects of what we can do, but we have communicated to the prps the importance of that for the community, and we're trying to make sure that our superfund
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remediation effort there will allow the restoration of that creek in the future and that the remediation techniques won't impede that from happening. >> well, thank you. i can tell by just your responding there, you're actively engaged on this issue. i can tell you're not looking at your notes. you're talking about it from firsthand experience, and i appreciate that greatly for your engagement. i know the folks in the community there can't wait to see this come to some closure. regarding the anaconda superfund site, it's my understanding there's been some progress made on the consent deck re for the anaconda smelter superfund site, but i've heard there may be a speed bump. can you assure me the epa is staying firm to be sure the site -- >> yes. i'm not aware of a speed bump. it's my understanding we're still on plan to execute the consent decree by this december. >> thank you. it's the perpetuity piece.
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i know you're engaged. thank you particularly for the epa's active presence on the ground there with the community, restoring that trust and that dialogue. i want to shift gears and talk about asbestos for a moment. due to asbestos contamination, mining vir mick light in northwest, montana, there's been mul pulmonary problems for my constituents. we're talking about libby primarily. over 2,000 individuals in northwest montana have been diagnosed with a -- furthermore, just last summer, a preschool in missoula was found to have an unacceptably high level of asbestos exposure, and children had to be immediately relocated. clearly our country has known for a while that asbestos presence can be dangerous to human health. i believe it's very important, as a chemical engineer, that we base decisions on sound science. you said that your goal remains
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to have it complete, this epa risk evaluation. i think senator tester brought this up earlier, to have this completed by december. my communities in montana are eager, eager for progress. we've known for a while the dangers of asbestos, and we want to protect others from the tragedies we've seen in montana. so i want to thank you for going a step beyond what was required on tosca. my question is why did the epa list specific uses of asbestos instead of banning all new uses? >> we're about to go final on the significant new use rule, and we are looking at that. we took comment, and that's part of our deliberations at this point. there's a lot of misinformation in the press last year when we announced the significant new use. the tosca process takes several years from start to finish, and we wanted to make sure no new -- i have to be careful not to
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pre-judge. we were concerned that there could be importation of asbestos products into our country. we're seeing asbestos showing up in products in russia and china. so the only way to ensure that the epa is aware of that ahead of time is the significant new use rule, which would allow us before an importer could import a new product containing asbestos, that they would have to go to us for permission, and we could then deny it. there was no mechanism to do that prior to our significant new use rule. that's what we're trying to do to close that loophole. i was accused last year in the press of trying to open up the markets to all kinds of asbestos products and that is the furthest thing -- >> thank you for staying engaged and active on this issue as well. i want to work with you. i want to work on legislation to do just that. i think it's more predictable for all parties involved. i want to see an outcome that protects the people in this country and montana a.
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>> when i was a career staffer in the toxics office, the epa program had a setback on the asbestos regulation. part of that was overturned by the court, and the agency hasn't tried to address asbestos since then. with the new tosca, i think we can address these issues and the significant new use rule is supposed to be the stopgap measure until we finish the risk assessment and the regulation of asbestos. but we are moving forward for the first time in over 25 years to try to address the asbestos. >> okay. thank you, administrator. >> thank you, senator daines. administrator wheeler, i've just got a couple more quick ones, and i'm going to run over to homeland security and aproposes and ask a couple questions over there. senator blunt is going to be here with senator udall as we wrap up. very quickly, this is an issue we've discussed before, fish grinding. not necessarily pertinent to either one of my colleagues on
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either side of me. but for us, we made some headway working with you on the offshore fish grinding. thank you for helping us with that effort. but we're still dealing with the onshore processing issue, even with the best available technology. 100% compliance with the permit requirements is not achievable because of the nature of the seafood waste. this results in extensive noncompliance reporting understand the epa permits, serves as a constant threat of enforcement risk and loss. so i would ask once again for your commitment to work with me to ensure that our onshore fish processors are not going to face fines for simply doing everything that they can to comply with the regulation. i don't know if you have any updates for me, but that is something, again, that we have to get resolved. >> we are supposed to have our draft general permit for public review published early this month. >> okay. >> for public comment. >> this month, april.
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so sometime in the next week or so? >> yes. i planned for early april. yes, senator. >> okay. we will look forward to that. another perennial issue is the diesel generators in our remote communities. the epa reg that requires any diesel generator purchased after model year 2014 required to have a diesel particulate filter installed, even if it's use -- if it's used as a primary power generator. so you know this issue very well. >> mm-hmm. >> in terms of the high cost of compliance to many of our small, remote communities. and your regulatory review set up as a result of executive order 1377. so we've asked the epa to re-examine the reg related to these diesel engines. so, again, if you have a current status on that. but anything that you can dos to demonstrate your commitment to
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work with us. this is particularly important as you know with regards to our micro grids scattered all throughout the state. >> i'm told that we should be issuing a notice of proposed rule making and direct final rule in june of this year. >> looking forward to it. administrator, i really appreciate your in-depth responses to some of these questions getting into real performance on initiatives, many of which have been hanging out there nfor a long period of tim. know that i look forward to working with you. i'm going to yield the rest of my time here to senator udall, and thank you for being here this morning. >> thank you. >> thank you, madam chair. we're, as you know, administrator wheeler, almost three years since the passage of overwhelming bipartisan reform of tosca. >> mm-hmm. >> and i know you're aware how involved i was in that. so you can imagine my disappointment when the very
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first chemical regulation you took, meth alene chloride, was a watered down rule that walks back protections for workers. epa recently finalized a ban on all consumer uses of the meth alene chloride in paint strippers. inexplicably the ban failed to cover workers as the original proposed ban did despite the fact that the vast majority of more than 50 deaths from this chemical have occurred in the workplace. in fact, i've met with the mother of kevin hartley, who died at age 21 while working, using a meth alene chloride-based stripper he had been trained to use. we know that people are dying using these strippers on the job. in finalizing the consumer ban, the epa found unreasonable risk of acute human lethality. that means that epa has already found that this chemical in paint strippers and coating
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removers poses an unreasonable risk of acute human lethality. is that correct that you found that? >> yes. i believe that is -- i believe that's correct, but you're being very specific, and i want to make sure i don't -- i'd like to get back to you. >> i believe you've made the finding on reasonable risk of acute human lethality. i'm ugz t the answer clearly is yes. the epa found this chemical in paint strippers and coating removers poses an unreasonable risk of acute human lethality. and the epa is aware that workers have died using this product on the job, is that correct? >> that is. but what we did was institute a comment period for training and certification, which has never been in place before. and during the comment period, if we determine that we cannot have a program that will guarantee training and certification that will safeguard the workers, then we can move to ban it for the
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workers as well. >> yeah. well, the young man that i spoke about was trained. >> but he wasn't trained by a program set up by the federal government. that was training by his employer or by the manufacturer. so what we're looking at is whether or not the product can be safely used by trained people under a training and certification program by the epa and the federal government. >> well, i understand you have a pre-proposal to consider measures that could address any unrai unreasonable risk that epa could potentially find to be presented by meth alene chloride when used for commercial paint and coating removal. but we know that the epa has already found that there are unraise national risk and we know that workers are at risk. to me it's clear that workers as well as consumers need protection. i know that kevin hartley's mother, wendy, would agree with that. this is not the tosca reform we
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all spent so much time and effort working on. now, i'd like to turn quickly to an important regulatory issue that the epa is working on in my home state. that's the cleanup of the chemical p-fos. as you know, mr. administrator, the way the epa is set up to interact with the state environment departments is very different from how other agencies are set up. state environment departments have delegated authority, as we've talked about here, for things like the safe water drinking act and the resource recovery act. so epa delegates primary enforcement responsibility to states and indian tribes to clean up the contamination. as you probably know, the state of new mexico is currently trying to compel the air force to clean up p-fos contamination of groundwater that has resulted from firefighting foam used at two air force bases in new mexico. and now there's also ongoing litigation.
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given that the new mexico environment department has primacy in delegation agreements from epa, i think the epa is obligated to provide technical and legal assistance on groundwater cleanup on these matters. will you commit to provide epa's assistance to the state of new mexico's environment department as they work to clean up p-fos contamination? >> it's my understanding we've already offered assistance to them. if we haven't, we will. but we've worked on enforcement actions for p-fos across the country. i don't know why we would not do that for new mexico. >> we're happy to have that commitment. the tricky part, mr. chairman, i just want to clarify this. the very tricky part is there in litigation with the department of justice and the department of defense. >> i understand. >> so we hope that the information you share with the state is not shared with their opponents, that it can be held confidential because we're in an unusual situation where the air
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force is trying to push down the standards, and the department of defense, there are a lot of reports on this. they want the p-fos standards to be lower. so it's important to us that you share information with new mexico on a confidential basis. can you do that? >> yes, and we do that with federal facilities all around the country in a number of different statutes. >> thank you very much. back to the chairman. >> thank you, senator udall. thank you, administrator wheeler, for being with us today. the record will stay open for one week for additional questions, and your responses. this committee is adjourned. >> thank you.
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