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Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2017

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. PALMER. Mr. Chairman, first, I want to commend my colleague, the gentleman from California (Mr. Calvert), for his and his colleagues on Appropriations' work on this bill.

Mr. Chairman, the Environmental Protection Agency spends as much as $50 million per year to employ nearly 200 armed agents at an average cost of $216,000 per year per agent. In total, over the period from fiscal year 2006 to fiscal year 2015, the EPA spent an estimated $715 million for its criminal enforcement program.

These 200 agents are equipped with guns and ammunition up to 30 millimeter in caliber, camouflage and other deceptive equipment, night vision, unmanned aircraft, and other military-style equipment.

A 2015 report noted that the EPA spent $24,700 on ammunition between 75 millimeter and 125 millimeter and $23,000 on ammunition over 125 millimeter. If this is true, what possible use could the EPA have for purchasing rounds of that size?

The EPA is just one of more than 67 Federal agencies that employ armed personnel, many of whom most Americans would never associate with law enforcement. These include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Federal Reserve Board, and the National Institutes of Health, among others.

Federal agencies should be able to clearly demonstrate their need for armed personnel and, absent such a demonstration, should rely on local law enforcement when there is a need for armed protection.

My amendment would prohibit funding for EPA's armed agents and begin to address the troubling trend of the militarization in our Federal agencies. I urge my colleagues to support it.

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Mr. PALMER. Mr. Chairman, my amendment would not hinder the EPA's ability to enforce the laws on the books. This amendment only limits their ability to employ armed personnel. The EPA will still be able to investigate and prosecute environmental crimes. They will simply have to rely on local law enforcement--or on Federal law enforcement when Federal law enforcement would be appropriate--and when there is a need for armed protection. They could, again, rely on local law enforcement or on Federal law enforcement when the need applies.

If the EPA believes that it needs armed protection, we should have a full disclosure of all of the EPA's criminal enforcement assets and a public debate about the need for the arms and equipment being used by the EPA. When we are talking about 75-millimeter ammunition, we are basically talking about an anti-tank round. When we are talking about 125-millimeter, we are talking about a tank round. They have amphibious assault vehicles, and they have other equipment that really makes them look like a military operation. It is also an enormous amount of money that has been invested here.

I would be happy--and I really appreciate the gentleman's desire--to have a discussion about this, and I look forward to having that discussion. I agree that we want to make sure that the people who work for our Federal agencies are protected, especially when they are involved in investigations in an enforcement capacity. We don't want any one of them to leave his home in the morning to go to work and be injured or worse and not be able to return home that evening. But we do need to have a serious discussion about how much we are spending, and the militarization of the Federal agencies should be of concern to all of us.

Mr. Chairman,

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Mr. PALMER. I thank the gentleman for expressing his concerns and for his willingness to work with us on this.

Mr. Chairman, I would just like to point out that weapons have proliferated among the Federal agencies. As I said, there are 67 agencies. We are spending an enormous amount of money on this, and we are not doing a particularly good job of keeping up with the weapons' inventory. We have had situations in which weapons have been lost or stolen--in one case, with the tragic result of the murder of Kate Steinle, in which the weapon had been stolen from the automobile of a ranger from the Bureau of Land Management.

I just think we have to take a long, hard look at the real need for arming Federal agencies. Some of them make absolutely no sense, like with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and particularly with the EPA. The EPA is one of the most feared agencies in the Federal Government. I put them right up there next to the IRS. To think that you have got armed agents with the kind of equipment and weapons that they have is a serious, serious issue that my amendment addresses. It has already, I think, initiated a much-needed debate on this issue.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. PALMER. Mr. Chair, I demand a recorded vote.

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