Less than two weeks after the Trump administration's controversial decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt was forced to defend drastic cuts in the 2018 budget proposal before a House Appropriations subcommittee.
Here are five questions from Democrats and Republicans alike that appeared to totally blindside him.
1. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.: "[Through the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program, the EPA] screens pesticides, chemicals, [and] environmental contaminants to determine their potential effect on human hormone systems, altered reproductive function in males and females, abnormal growth patterns and neurodevelopmental delays in children, increases [in] incidents of breast cancer and changes to immune function... How do you justify eliminating funding for this program? Aren't you alarmed by the link between exposure to chemicals in the environment and consumer products and changes to hormones, health and development of people and animals? What should EPA's role be?"
Pruitt: "Congresswoman, I do share your concerns . . . you raise a very, very important question . . . this is our approach presently, but I look forward to your input on how maybe this could be restored and/or addressed in a different way."
2. David Joyce, R-Ohio: "It is clear that funding is vital to sustain an effective federal, state and local partnership to restore the Great Lakes. However, equally important is the EPA's role as a coordinator program of the overall restoration program, coordinating work among multiple federal, state and tribal agencies, providing technical support, establishing science-based goals and managing bi-national efforts with Canada. EPA has been key to the success of the GLRI (Great Lakes Restoration Initiative). Can you explain to us how these functions will be maintained if the GLRI is eliminated?"
Pruitt: "This body has for a number of years recognized the importance of the initiative. We at the agency have recognized that as well. As we start this process and continue the process, we look forward to working with you to address the objectives — the water quality objectives, and you mentioned invasive species, as well. We want to make sure that the states affected, the commerce that's a part of the Great Lakes is preserved, and we address that going forward in this budget."
3. Tom Cole, R-Okla.: "When I see the Indian Environmental General Assistance Program (GAP) cut by $257 billion and see state and tribal assistant grants cut by $678 million, and I see a $69 million cut in the pollution control grant program of the Clean Water Act which has a section on tribal guidance, that worries me . . . So when you make these cuts [given current tribal taxation law], how will they make up those monies, particularly given the biggest recipients tend to be the poorest tribes and the most isolated land masses and areas with the most limited economic tools available?"
Pruitt: "It's particularly important with respect to rural communities across the country, in addition to tribal communities, as you've indicated — the tribal nations — congressman, that we recognize the very important role that the EPA plays in water infrastructure, air attainment and facilitation. And as we go through the budgeting process, i look forward to working with you, the chairman and the ranking member to address those concerns."
4. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, Ninth District: "In your confirmation, you committed to supporting the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, so the following question you can answer yes or no, we make it easy. Can you please clarify, did your budget leave EPA with the $300 million in funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative whole or zeroed out?"
Pruitt: "That process, congresswoman, as far as the submission to the agency and the passback, that's something that — it's been a little while since we . . . those numbers.. I looked at those numbers; in our discussions we talked about the importance of the Great Lakes Initiative."
5: Betty McCollum, D-Minn.: "[As Attorney General of Oklahoma], you had a lot of correspondence with Devon Energy, who was aggressively challenging rules proposed by the EPA . . . [Now] it's backing away from an agreement to install a system to detect leaks of dangerous gas . . . Based on your relationship with Devon Energy, when you were attorney general, how do you plan on handling this issue? Are you going to recuse yourself [from the current investigation]? Because now you're the [head of the] EPA."
Pruitt:"I would say to you as far as enforcement is concerned, I talked about that in my opening comments. Enforcement matters to me. You mentioned my time as Attorney General. We had a grand jury; I led significant enforcement activities. I understand there are bad actors in the marketplace. There are individuals and companies that discharge toxins and pollutants into the water that need to be prosecuted."