Daines re-invites EPA’s Pruitt to Montana, pushes back against Superfund cuts

Republican Sen. Steve Daines has reiterated his invitation to Environmental Protection Agency’s top administrator Scott Pruitt to visit a Superfund site in Montana.

Daines first gave the invitation to Pruitt in February at the time of Pruitt’s confirmation hearing. Pruitt, so far, has not taken Daines up on that offer. When he visited a Superfund site since becoming EPA’s top administrator, he instead visited a site in Chicago that is contaminated with lead.

But in a letter Daines gave to Pruitt after Pruitt’s hearing before the Senate subcomittee on appropriations for the environment and other agenices Tuesday on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, Daines reiterated his invitation. The letter says, “I would like to reemphasize my standing invitation for you to visit my state and take a firsthand look at a Montana Superfund site.”

EPA did not address the letter’s invitation but EPA spokesperson Amy Graham responded, via email, Wednesday, saying, “Administrator Pruitt appreciates Senator Daines’ recommendations for streamlining and improving the Superfund program, and he looks forward to working with the Senator to accelerate Superfund cleanup in Montana.”

Daines’ three-page letter commended Pruitt, saying he is “encouraged” by Pruitt’s new Superfund strategy, including the formation of a task force and “more direct involvement by the Administrator.” But Daines took exception to the proposed $330 million cut to Superfund in the agency’s proposed 2018 budget, saying the cut “does not seem to reflect that same level of commitment.” He added, “I am working to increase that funding as a member of the Senate Committee on Appropriations.”

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat and also a member of the Appropriations Committee, also vowed Tuesday to fight those cuts.

Both senators are members of the subcommittee that held Pruitt’s budget hearing on Capitol Hill.

Daines’ letter laid out a list of concerns he has for Pruitt. He encourages Pruitt and his new Superfund task force, chaired by former banker Albert Kelly, to consider increasing the pace of the cleanup, reducing administrative costs, enforcing standards consistently and getting the community more involved, among other issues.

Daines also engaged with Pruitt during the hearing Tuesday on Capitol Hill. Daines expressed concern over EPA’s “overreach,” and mentioned the stigma that living in a Superfund site can entail for a community. He urged Pruitt to “prioritize productive use,” of such sites.

Daines also told Pruitt that he has heard from Montanans of a lack of transparency and collaboration with stakeholders. He would like to see Pruitt’s EPA work more closely with communities impacted by Superfund.

Although Daines didn’t mention Butte by name, Pruitt did in his response.

“It’s just simply responsiveness,” Pruitt said. “Butte, Montana, is obviously one of those sites.”

Pruitt said that under his leadership EPA would “make sure voices are heard.”

Daines’ letter offers himself “as a resource to EPA in the Senate to assist in improving the Superfund program.”

Pruitt calls the changes he is making to EPA and Superfund, including the new Superfund task force in Washington, DC, as well as Pruitt’s involvement in decision making on sites and the stripped-down budgets, “streamlining” the process. But critics of the changes say they look more like a way of loosening environmental regulation and enforcement.