Pruitt talks up partnership with state regulators

Source: Kevin Bogardus, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, April 10, 2017

U.S. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt spoke to state environmental regulators, espousing his pitch for “cooperative federalism” as agency chief.

In a speech at the Environmental Council of the States’ spring meeting in Washington, Pruitt said he aims to work with state agencies on cutting back pollution as well as rebuilding the country’s water infrastructure.

The administrator laid out three principles for what he has planned for EPA, including adhering to the “rule of law” and improving the rulemaking process at the agency. He also looked to appeal to state environmental agency leaders by saying he valued the partnership between EPA and the states.

“Beyond rule of law, beyond process, is something that’s very near and dear to your heart, and that’s federalism. That’s cooperative federalism. Partnership,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt noted he already has met with several state regulators as well as governors to build up this relationship.

“Those agencies care about the water that they drink and the air that they breathe. They care about the land in those respective states,” Pruitt said. “There is going to be an element of partnership and confidence of us working together.”

Pruitt said he wants to move forward on cleaning up toxic Superfund sites across the country. Also, he wants to combat air pollution by bringing more states in line with EPA air quality standards. The agency chief also noted President Trump’s push for an infrastructure package and that spending will be doled out to the states in order to improve water infrastructure.

“I really am encouraged that this year, an infrastructure package will pass, and a portion of it will be dedicated to water infrastructure,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt is playing a part in the Trump administration’s infrastructure push and met with the president earlier this week. In a question-and-answer session after his speech, Pruitt said EPA is working on streamlining the permitting process to get projects out the door and said Trump wants to move quickly on spending.

“[Trump] actually talked about 120 days being the time limit that we want to actually deploy this infrastructure spending. That’s very aggressive, clearly,” Pruitt said.

Now, more than two months since his Senate confirmation, Pruitt has had to deal with environmental groups pushing back on moves to slow and stop some EPA rules, as well as complaints from some conservatives that he hasn’t moved quickly enough on their concerns, including overturning EPA’s 2009 endangerment finding against carbon dioxide.

Even during his speech today, he was interrupted twice by protesters who were led out of the room. J.P. Freire, an EPA spokesman, said they were “desperate activists” trying to hijack the event while Pruitt discussed “ways to work with the states toward real solutions that would help grow jobs and protect the environment.”

One obstacle for Pruitt’s effort to partner with the states is Trump’s proposed budget for EPA, slashing the agency’s funds by 31 percent, or $2.6 billion. Many grant programs used by state agencies would be cut or even eliminated under the proposal (Greenwire, April 4).

John Linc Stine, commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency as well as ECOS’s president, told E&E News that it is still early in the budget process. He said that state agencies are talking with Capitol Hill as well as EPA on how to boost funding.

“The first proposed budget leaves a huge gap in terms of state and tribal funding,” Stine said. “That’s a significant hardship for states to fill that gap.”