Daines expects EPA chief to visit Butte sometimes this year

After meeting privately with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt Tuesday, Sen. Steve Daines says he’s confident Pruitt will visit Butte this year.

In an interview with The Montana Standard Wednesday, Daines said Pruitt is determined to “get results” with the Superfund program. “Some of these sites have been languishing for decades. Administrator Pruitt is focused on outcomes,” Daines said.

Daines said he renewed his earlier invitation to Pruitt to visit Montana, this time specifically suggesting a trip to Butte, and got a positive response.

Daines didn’t spare the business jargon as he discussed Montana and Superfund, saying that said getting Pruitt out “on the ground” is key. “There’s nothing like getting out and kicking the tires. It’s management by walking around … you want to get face to face and see what you’re dealing with.

“We need to know what success looks like,” Daines said. “I had a saying during my 28 years in business. It was, ‘If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it.’”

The soonest Pruitt could visit Butte would probably be the fall, Daines said, but added that he was confident the visit would take place before the end of the year.

“If there’s a complaint I’m hearing from Montanans about EPA, it’s that there is not enough community involvement and engagement at the highest levels” of the agency, Daines said, “so we can address that head-on” by getting Pruitt to the state.

“I’d like to get him in a room with local leaders and other community members, so they can share specifically what’s working and what’s not working,” Daines said.

Daines said he used Tuesday’s meeting with Pruitt and three of his top aides to reiterate his concern about the 31 percent cut – some $330 million — to the Superfund budget currently proposed by the Trump Administration. That closely parallels the overall cut of more than 30 percent proposed for the entire EPA.

The Superfund budget “that the White House has proposed is clearly inadequate,” Daines said. “We need to ensure adequate funding for these Superfund cleanups. Otherwise we will forever live with liability from the messes created by past generations. It has to be fixed.”

As a member of the Appropriations subcommittee dealing with EPA’s budget, Daines said, he would be fighting to ensure adequate funding. “While I applaud that the president is working to bring some fiscal sanity … to Washington, it’s all about prioritization,” Daines said. “We have an obligation and a commitment to continue working on these cleanups and bring them to completion.”

Of Butte’s cleanup, Daines said, “It’s been a 1,000-mile journey. There’s another 1,000 miles to go. But we can’t let it be a 10,000-mile journey. We’ve got to bring it to an end.

“That’s something the administrator agrees with,” Daines said. “I admire the focus and intensity” Pruitt is bringing to the Superfund situation.

“He’s an action-oriented administrator,” Daines said. “He’s going to see if he can close some of these long-running chapters.”

Daines also discussed health care legislation during his interview with The Montana Standard.

He said he was gratified that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, agreed with calls made by Daines and others to work through the August recess if necessary to make legislative progress. McConnell announced Tuesday that the start of the August recess would be delayed until the third week of the month.

Primary goal of the extra time: health care legislation. With the Better Care Reconciliation Act, the Senate Republicans’ bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, taking heavy criticism, the caucus decided to pull the bill back and revise it. A new version is expected to be released Thursday.

Daines said he didn’t know specifics of what would be presented in the new bill, but speculated that it may not cut taxes on investment gains, as the earlier version did. Removing that tax cut, which primarily benefits the very affluent, would free up some $170 billion, Daines said, that could be spent figuring out a way to deal with the expense of the meth and opioid “scourges that we face across the country, including in Montana. … Most of those patients, or addicts, come into the system through Medicaid. There’s got to be a better way” to treat them, he said.