EPA needs budget reform, less spending and better science

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has made a good start fulfilling President Trump’s campaign promises to undo the Obama administration’s regulatory onslaught. But preventing future outbreaks of regulatory overreach is going to require more fundamental reforms of the way the agency operates.

These reforms should include: requiring budget transparency; cutting spending by eliminating programs and offices; and radically improving the use of science in the regulatory process. Administrator Pruitt can make some of these changes administratively, but others are going to require action by Congress.

The EPA’s budget, as our colleague William Yeatman has shown, is the most opaque and incomprehensible of any federal department. The agency spends huge sums of money without adequate congressional oversight.

EPA’s opaque budget has allowed it to spend large sums on a wide variety of discretionary programs not mandated by Congress. To take only one example, Obama’s EPA diverted $160 million from Clean Air Act programs to climate programs. This funding apparently wasn’t necessary to carry out the agency’s legal responsibilities for clean air, so can be eliminated. Forcing the agency to open its books to public scrutiny will make it more responsive to real environmental problems rather than green activist agendas.

The EPA budget requests for the next fiscal year submitted by the Trump administration are more transparent than previous budgets, but there is still a long way to go. In terms of spending, the Trump administration requested a 31 percent budget cut for EPA, but so far Congress is resisting to that high call for drastic cuts. The House appropriations bill makes just a six percent cut. Much deeper cuts need to be made.

Another way to make cuts is by evaluating the actual work the agency does to see where there may be redundancies. State environmental agencies have taken over many of the EPA’s responsibilities for monitoring and enforcement. This means that the EPA’s 10 regional offices, which employ six thousand people, have outlived their usefulness and can be shut down. Emergency response functions can be moved to the Federal Emergency Management Administration.

Administrator Pruitt can make significant improvements administratively. For example, he can ban the use of secret science, which is illegal but has been tolerated by Congress. The EPA is supposed to base its regulatory decisions on sound science. Over the decades, EPA has moved more and more from sound science to manipulated and secret science.

Steve Milloy in his recent book, “Scare Pollution,” has provided a comprehensive and shocking expose of the EPA’s worst misuse of science. He shows how secret and shoddy air pollutions studies have been used to justify regulations that cost workers and consumers tens of billions of dollars. But there are similar, if less outrageous and expensive, misuses of science throughout the agency.

In 1999, Congress did try to improve the use of science when it passed the Information Quality Act, but then allowed the Obama Administration to ignore it. Administrator Pruitt should require that the act be enforced rigorously. That will be a good start, but legislation is required to ensure that these reforms last beyond the Trump administration. The House has already passed legislation to ban secret science. The Senate needs to act on this and other important reforms passed by the House.

In sum, the EPA is a major part of the swamp that President Trump promised during the 2016 campaign that he was going to drain. Let’s not miss this rare opportunity to make fundamental, long-lasting reforms at the EPA. The administration and Congress should work together to require budget transparency, cut spending by eliminating and offices, and end the use of secret and junk science.


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