The Biden administration’s top environmental regulator was in the hot seat Wednesday as Republican senators, in a preview of spending battles to come, questioned his request for more money for the Environmental Protection Agency in the president’s budget.
Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee pressed EPA Administrator Michael Regan during an appearance before the panel about why the agency needs $12.1 billion for 2024 — an increase of roughly $2 billion, or 20% — when a divided Congress is expected to curb federal spending.
The lofty proposed increase comes even after Democrats’ tax and climate spending law — the Inflation Reduction Act — pumped an additional $41.5 billion into the EPA last year, which was equal to roughly four times the agency’s annual budget.
“I’m asking you to do less with less,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer, North Dakota Republican. “I’m talking about a tale of two philosophies.”
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, the panel’s top Republican, described the figures as “eye-watering” and “astounding.”
“Americans are having to do more with less, but EPA got more and still wants more,” Ms. Capito said. “I’m not convinced that EPA is using the resources it already has effectively.”
Mr. Regan testified that the budget request is “ambitious and transformative” and is designed to boost energy security, combat climate change, improve air quality and water infrastructure, facilitate environmental justice and rebuild “the core functions in our agency” — a reference to the money and policies that were slashed under President Biden’s predecessor.
Democrats on the committee argued the EPA was squeezed under former President Trump and that continued increases under Mr. Biden are needed to catch up.
“The [fiscal year] 2024 president’s budget positions the EPA to create durable environmental policy, investing in America and setting our nation on a path to win the 21st century,” Mr. Regan said. “Last year’s appropriations helped, but this year we need a little bit more.”
The budget request would also allocate more money to implementing the Inflation Reduction Act, despite the extra $41.5 billion the agency received under the law.
“It’s simply impossible for EPA to absorb and responsibly spend the amount of money that is being requested,” said Sen. Cynthia Lummis, Wyoming Republican.
The president’s yearly proposed budget is never enacted by Congress but underscores where an administration’s priorities are.
A split Congress will need to raise the debt ceiling and pass new federal funding this summer, teeing up intense partisan fights that are expected to bring spending cuts amid surging inflation.
“Years of underfunding during the Trump administration has made it particularly challenging for EPA to fulfill its obligations to these disproportionately impacted communities,” said Sen. Alex Padilla, California Democrat.
Mr. Regan was also grilled by Republicans on the administration’s new rule governing small waterways that critics say would jeopardize farmland — despite the Supreme Court set to rule on the matter later this year — and efforts to slash domestic fossil fuel production to fight climate change.
The EPA chief confirmed projections presented by Ms. Capito, whose home state of West Virginia is one of the largest natural gas producers in the country, that the Inflation Reduction Act by 2040 is expected to reduce U.S. natural gas generation by more than 40% and coal capacity by roughly 75%.