Former EPA Chief Reilly Slams House For 'Full Retreat' On Environment



Former EPA Chief Reilly Slams House For 'Full Retreat' On Environment October 23, 2017

Former EPA Administrator William Reilly is harshly criticizing the House-passed spending bill that includes major cuts to “core” EPA programs, saying that the provisions as written signal a “full retreat” from decades of efforts to achieve environmental improvement and urging the Senate to reconsider.

“One should make no mistake that a full retreat has been signaled by the House budget, and if this is the budget that ends up coming out of the Senate and [subsequent negotiations], then the United States can expect all of the curves of [environmental] improvement which have been so steady with public support over the past 40 to 50 years to begin to go the other way, to start trending down,” Reilly said in comments to Inside EPA.

The remark makes clear that Reilly, who served as administrator during the George H.W. Bush administration, sees the House passed budget as incompatible with promises by Administrator Scott Pruitt to implement a “back to basics” agenda that Pruitt has defended as a way to emphasize other environmental priorities in lieu of climate change programs.

“It is very difficult to square the commitments the [EPA] administrator has made to core programs with a 27 percent reduction in clean air, clean water and safe drinking water,” Reilly tells Inside EPA.

His criticisms come at a time when the agency's defenders are pressing for senators to reconsider the House-passed funding cuts to EPA's budget, as well as policy “riders” that impose new restrictions on agency activities.

While the precise timeline for revisiting the House language remains in flux, the Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to mark up EPA's spending bill as soon as the week of Oct. 30 after postponing a planned markup earlier this month.

Reilly’s comments come after a recent analysis by the Environmental Protection Network (EPN), a group of former EPA employees, shows that the House-passed budget would result in a 27 percent cut to core EPA programs, even though the House's overall funding for EPA is $1.7 billion more than the overall administration request.

The analysis cites diversions by Congress of funds from EPA's crucial Environmental Programs and Management account to fund other priorities both within and outside the agency.

It also raises concern about the impact of policy riders on environmental protections.

Reilly in his comments expresses broad concern at both the core program cuts and several of the policy provisions in then House-passed bill that could hamstring enforcement of environmental laws including through citizen suits.

“That is the legacy that the Trump administration and the Pruitt administration are directing us to and it is a tragedy for the environment,” if implemented, he said.

Reilly served as EPA Administrator from 1989 -1993 -- a notable period that included the enactment of the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990.

A biography on EPA's archived webpage notes other work by Reilly including: efforts to make sure that a then- pending push for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took environmental issues into account; efforts to work with industry on voluntary initiatives; and work to address regional pollution problems.

Reilly is also past president of the World Wildlife Fund. But his perspective on EPA goes even farther back, when he was hired on in 1970 as a senior staff member of the Council on Environmental Quality under Russell Train, who subsequently served as EPA Administrator during the Nixon and Ford Administrations, according to the bio.

27 Percent Cut

Reilly during the interview expressed concern at both the proposed 27 percent cut to core programs, as well as policy provisions in the House-passed bill that hamstring the agency in areas including environmental enforcement and protection of federal waters.

Those provisions include an amendment added to spending legislation during House floor consideration -- offered by Rep. Jason Smith (R-MO) -- that restricts federal payment of legal fees as part of settlements under the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, or Endangered Species Act.

“It is perverse that not only has the administration and the House concurred that enforcement will now be diminished, but those who file to affect the administration and implementation of laws will not have their lawyers compensated,” Reilly said. “That is the result of proposing to remove monies to compensate attorneys fees of environmentalists, of environmental groups, in settlements.”

Reilly during the interview held out hope that senators -- and anyone involved in subsequent budget negotiations to finalize EPA spending -- might rethink both the funding cuts and proposed policy riders included in the House budget, with the alternative being reversing decades of environmental improvements.

And he called the House budget a “fairly shocking abandonment of long-standing American commitments to environmental protection, to health, to the ecology,” citing as another example of his concern the potential combined effect of repealing the Waters of the U.S. rule -- a step called for in the spending bill and by the Trump White House -- and the budget bill's enforcement impacts, and the broader message being sent that wetlands protections will not be enforced.

“The waters of the United States are to be basically reduced in scope, and no doubt in vigor, when you add both the definitional changes that are to occur together with the want of enforcement,” Reilly said.

Reilly added that the House passed budget “represents a calculated retreat from enforcement, science, technology and some key geographic areas such as San Francisco Bay, Long Island Sound and Chesapeake Bay" -- all of which are slated for cuts.

That critique comes after House appropriators rebuffed Trump administration calls to completely zero out geographic programs focused on specific water bodies, but still reduced funding for such efforts by over $100 million, including cuts or elimination or funding for some of the programs, including San Francisco Bay and the Chesapeake Bay.

House lawmakers also approved an amendment from Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) that would bar any use of EPA funds for the agency to take “backstop” actions to protect the Chesapeake Bay watershed, thus limiting the agency's ability to remedy any failure by states in the region to attain pollution reduction goals required by EPA's Total Maximum Daily Load program. -- Doug Obey (

William Reilly