Lawmakers to examine how to ‘undo the damage’ at EPA

Source: By Kevin Bogardus, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, March 8, 2021

House lawmakers this week will delve into what’s next for EPA in a hearing that could offer clues about Democratic plans for the agency.

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a hearing on Wednesday that will focus on strengthening EPA from tumultuous times during the Trump administration.

Titled “The Path Forward: Restoring the Vital Mission of EPA,” the hearing will look into how the agency can now respond to climate change and provide environmental justice among other challenges.

Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and subcommittee Chairwoman Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) said in a joint statement last week that EPA was “undermined for the past four years” and now faces “an uphill battle” to address issues like climate and environmental justice facing the country and the planet.

“Thankfully, the Biden Administration is committed to building a strong EPA and empowering the agency to engage on these urgent issues,” Pallone and DeGette said.

“At next week’s hearing, we’re looking forward to hearing from former EPA leaders about what steps must be taken to undo the damage done to the agency over the last four years and to re-empower it to fulfill its mission,” the lawmakers said.

Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups, worried about the agency’s future, were fiercely critical of the changes at EPA under the prior administration.

Hundreds of EPA employees left during President Trump’s term, many of whom were frustrated at how the agency was being treated. Several environmental regulations were rolled back; how EPA handled science was reworked; and the threat of climate change was downplayed.

Former EPA officials from Democratic as well as Republican administrations also became vocal in defending the agency. Seven former EPA administrators sent a letter to lawmakers saying “time is of the essence” and the agency was “ripe for oversight.”

Four of them later appeared at a hearing held by the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee in June 2019 (E&E Daily, June 12, 2019).

“I’m here to remind the political leadership at EPA that what they do matters, and it’s time for them to stand up and do their jobs,” said Gina McCarthy, who led EPA from 2013 to 2017, at the hearing. McCarthy is now heading up domestic climate policy for the White House.

This week’s hearing could give guidance on how the Biden administration could revamp EPA. The agency lacks Senate-confirmed leadership but that may soon change.

Michael Regan, President Biden’s nominee for EPA administrator, is expected to get a first vote in the Senate on Wednesday. If he moves forward, a final confirmation roll call could happen later this week (see related story).