It was fascinating to watch members of Congress question EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy during a congressional hearing about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Republican members of Congress said that they were shocked that the EPA was unable to force the state of Michigan to respond appropriately to lead in Flint's water supply while children were poisoned for over a year.
But as pointed out by Arthur Delaney and Kate Sheppard, environmental and energy reporters for The Huffington Post, "The Republican-led Congress has chopped the EPA's budget in recent years, from a high of $10.3 billion in 2010 down to $8.1 billion for 2015. The funding cuts have forced the agency to reduce its workforce, from a high of 18,110 in 1999 to just 15,408 as of 2014 — a 15 percent staffing cut from 15 years before."
Republicans have specifically targeted cuts in water protection programs. Last year, according to Delaney and Sheppard, Republicans "sought to cut funding for water protection programs in particular by 24 percent" at which time the EPA warned that the cuts "would have far-reaching consequences for the agency's ability to ensure protections for public health and the environment."
McCarthy again warned Republicans during last year's budget process that rule changes under the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts would keep the EPA from being able to protect the American people. They didn't listen. Instead, Republicans blocked rules regarding lead and other toxins that would poison the American people. Specifically related to the crisis in Flint, Republicans tried to block additional rules — saved by President Obama's veto — that would help safeguard drinking water from streams and lakes.
It should be noted that the two leading candidates for the GOP nomination for President of the United States, Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, both promise to close the EPA altogether.
According to Missouri Congresswoman Lacy Clay, "Republicans have been absolutely slamming the EPA for overreaching at every possible turn. Now they criticize the EPA for not doing more when Republican Gov. Snyder of Michigan fell down on the job."
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In a perfect world, the EPA would monitor water quality across the United States to ensure all Americans have safe drinking water. This would take politics out of the picture as local and state governments tend to worry more about costs than safety. We see this today as many politicians would rather score political points and cut taxes rather than step up to the responsibility of replacing miles of lead pipes in their water systems.
Republicans in Congress and in State Houses across the country have fought EPA's ability to monitor water quality in the United States by cutting both their funding and authority. Republicans think the federal government, and the EPA specifically, should mind their own business when it comes to local and state water quality.
Except last week, of course, during the Flint water congressional hearings. Last week, Republicans hammered EPA director McCarthy for her inability to respond to the Flint water crisis. Never mind these very members of the committee voted just last year to cut the EPA's funding and limit their authority to respond to a situation like Flint.
As stated by Scott Applewhite of the Associated Press, "Republicans have made environmental regulations their punching bag for years. But now that there's a water crisis unfolding in Flint, Michigan, they've decided that what we actually need is more rules." It's a little unusual, states Applewhite, to hear Republicans crying out for more rule-making from the EPA.
In fact, on the same day as the hearing last week, House Republicans released a budget that would dramatically cut funding for the EPA, so that the agency won't, in the words of Republicans, "continue to implement an unprecedented activist regulatory policy to the detriment of states, localities, small businesses and energy consumers."
So there you have it. According to Republicans, protecting our children from lead poisoning and permanent disabilities is what they call "activist regulatory policy."
Tom Zirpoli writes from Westminster. His column appears Wednesdays. Zirpoli it program director of the human services management graduate degree at McDaniel College. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.