Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt wants to fight  a “war on lead” by investing in infrastructure to eliminate the country’s lead water pipes within a decade, he told a Senate committee in his first oversight hearing since he became head of the agency last year.

Pruitt emphasized the need for infrastructure to eliminate lead in his opening statement to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Jan. 30.

He didn't provide an estimate of how much funding for lead lines he might seek or where the funds would come from. For their part, committee members didn't press Pruitt on those points.

But Pruitt was asked why the EPA’s budget would cut lead training programs and why the agency has postponed a revision to the Lead and Copper Rule until 2020.

“Your rhetoric doesn’t match your actions,” said Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.). “This doesn’t sound like much of a war on lead. Every day I meet children exposed to lead, and they don’t have 700 days to wait.”

Pruitt didn’t address why the lead and copper rule revisions, proposed after the Flint, Mich., water crisis, will be delayed, but he did say he would work with Congress to maintain funding for some lead risk-reduction programs.

The American Water Works Association estimates there are 6.1 million lead service lines still in the ground, and an EPA study found that replacing all of those lead lines would cost between $16 billion and $80 billion. Replacing the lines might be a component of President Trump’s $1-trillion infrastructure plan, expected to be mentioned during his State of the Union address.

Party Divisions

Pruitt’s record in his first year received wildly disparate reviews from Republicans and Democrats during the hearing. Republicans praised Pruitt for moving to roll back regulations, such as the Waters of the U.S. rule and the Clean Power Plan. They say his program has resulted in more jobs, especially in manufacturing.

“All of these actions have created certainty and created jobs across the country,” said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa.)

Democrats saw Pruitt’s actions as turning back the clock on environmental protections.

“Those are not achievements. Those are exactly the opposite,” said the panel's ranking Democrat, Thomas Carper (Del.) said after Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) praised Pruitt’s reforms.

Democrats questioned Pruitt on the moves to undo several rules, including the Jan. 25 announcement it would withdraw the 1995 “once in, always in” policy of classifying major sources of hazardous air pollutants.

The agency said the decision will reduce regulatory burdens. Pruitt said removing the policy, which continued to classify major emitters as such after they implemented pollution controls, will allow companies to make more investments in environmental protection.  

Pruitt told the committee that EPA is leaving many actions in states' hands in the spirit of "cooperative federalism."

But Democrats questioned why cooperative federalism didn’t extend to states' desires to work together to clean up cross-state air pollution or to California’s fuel-efficiency standards, which could be more stringent than the rest of the nation if the Trump administration reduces 2022-2025 federal standards.

“Cooperative federalism doesn’t mean that one state can dictate to the rest of the nation,” Pruitt said.

Superfund was one issue where Democrats found common ground with Pruitt. The administrator has made it a priority to clean up Superfund sites, and each time a Democrat asked about Superfund sites in his or her state, or about legacy pollution, Pruitt appeared eager to agree about the importance of cleaning up that waste. Pruitt said that improving Superfund sites is “one of the most tangible things we can do.”