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Republicans greet call for expanded EPA staffing with skepticism

'Radical proposal' would 'kill' American industry, say GOP lawmakers

Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, chairman of the House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, said the Biden administration is "out of touch" and that in his role he remains "committed to crafting a responsible budget that successfully meets America's needs and contributes to the long-term health of our economy."
Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, chairman of the House Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, said the Biden administration is "out of touch" and that in his role he remains "committed to crafting a responsible budget that successfully meets America's needs and contributes to the long-term health of our economy." (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The White House proposal to further expand the EPA’s numbers after years of staffing levels decline was greeted with immediate pushback from congressional Republicans, who said it would grow a regulatory state that “kills” American industry.

The EPA budget request released Thursday calls for $12 billion in discretionary budget authority for fiscal 2024, which represents a $1.9 billion, or 19 percent, increase from the 2023 enacted level. It would also make an estimated $2.5 billion in Superfund tax revenue available to the agency, funds that are raised through excise taxes on certain chemicals and crude oil products.

Chief among the benefits touted by the White House was the fact that it would allow the agency to add 2,400 jobs.

“Coupled with the president’s historic investments in America through significant legislative accomplishments, the budget will advance EPA’s mission across the board, boosting everything from our efforts to combat climate change, to delivering clean air, safe water, and healthy lands, to protecting communities from harmful chemicals, and to the continued restoration of capacity necessary to effectively implement these programs,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in a statement.

[GOP takes up arms against Biden’s energy, climate spending plan]

Environmental groups also expressed their support for the White House budget. Sierra Club Legislative Director Melinda Pierce said the proposal “takes the simple but crucial step of funding the federal government at adequate levels.”

The Biden administration has sought to reverse declining numbers at the agency, whose current appropriated staffing ceiling stands at just over 15,000. Even with 2,400 additional employees, staffing levels would still stand roughly where they were under the George W. Bush administration, and below its peak of over 18,000 employees at the end of the Clinton administration.

Support from workers

AFGE Council 238, the EPA’s largest union that represents over half of eligible employees, has called for staffing levels to be closer to 20,000 in order to finalize rules under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and other environmental laws the Biden administration has sought to prioritize in order to strengthen environmental regulation.

However, Biden’s budget was greeted with immediate skepticism from congressional Republicans, who were supportive of the Trump administration’s deregulatory efforts and have questioned the Biden administration’s actions.

House Energy and Commerce Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., said that $5 billion the White House requested for the agency to address climate change amounted to a “war chest” that would “be used to continue the administration’s radical environmental agenda that kills American energy, jobs, and manufacturing.”

“The president’s budget shows he is clearly more interested in playing politics to appease his radical base than actually legislating,” Rodgers said in a statement. “We urge him to abandon this radical proposal and working with Republicans who stand ready to find bipartisan solutions for the American people.”

House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said the Biden administration is “out of touch” and that in his role he remains “committed to crafting a responsible budget that successfully meets America’s needs and contributes to the long-term health of our economy.”

The White House said these funds are needed to address environmental justice, fulfill its plan to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances and increase environmental enforcement in communities historically overburdened by pollution. But with the Republican-controlled House eying cuts to nondefense spending, his plans may be significantly curtailed.

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