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Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2018

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. Chairman, the Environmental Protection Agency spends as much as $50 million a 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 2015, the EPA spent an estimated $715 million for its criminal enforcement program. This money could have been better spent on such things as improvement of our water systems.

These 200 special agents were equipped with guns and ammunition up to 30-millimeter, camouflage and other deceptive equipment, night vision, unmanned aircraft, and other military-style equipment.
A 2015 report by Open the Books, noted that EPA spent $24,700 on ammunition between 75-millimeter and 125-millimeter, and $23,000 on ammunition over 125-millimeter. It is difficult for me to imagine that the EPA has a legitimate use for ammunition of that size.

The EPA is just one of more than 70 Federal agencies that employ armed personnel, many of which most Americans would never associate with law enforcement. These include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, the Federal Reserve Board, and the National Institutes of Health, among others.
I think we need to take a step back and reevaluate whether arming the bureaucracy is the best way to ensure that our laws are enforced.

Federal agencies should be able to demonstrate their need for armed personnel and, absent such a demonstration, should rely on local or State 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 militarization in our Federal agencies.

Claim: While I appreciate my colleague's concerns about the militarization of federal agencies, this amendment reaches too far.

Response: It is not my amendment, but the EPA that has reached too far. EPA is the poster child for government overreach, and they have clearly abused the police powers they've been granted.

Claim: This amendment puts EPA employees at risk of bodily harm. They deserve to come home to their families at night.

Response: I agree that every federal employee should be able to come home safe to their families and this amendment would not impact their ability to do so. EPA and any other federal agency that believes that their activities could result in a threat to their employees have the ability to coordinate armed protection with local or state or federal law enforcement.

Claim: This amendment would give criminals a free pass to pollute our air and water and ignore the laws on the books.

Response: My amendment would not hinder EPA's ability to enforce the laws on the books and no one wants to see our air and water polluted.

However, we cannot ignore the facts that EPA's criminal enforcement division could be mistaken for a military operation at this point. I want to see our laws enforced, but I have serious doubts that it takes 200 heavily armed EPA agents to accomplish that goal.

Claim: We should have a debate over EPA's need for armed agents but this is not the correct venue for that debate. The debate should take place in the authorizing committees.

Response: That same argument could be applied to every limitation amendment offered to an appropriations bill, but that doesn't stop limitations from being offered and adopted. That said, I am happy to continue this debate should a bill reauthorizing these activities come up.

We recently increased funding for the Capitol Police by $29.2 million which could be more than covered by the reduction I am seeking to EPA Criminal Enforcement.

Mr. Chairman, I urge my colleagues to support the amendment, and I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the chairman's great work on the appropriations bill and have great respect for him, but I would like to respond to some of the comments.

This is not a cut to the EPA's budget. This is a redirection of funds away from a militarized division of the EPA. There is no effort at all here to diminish the EPA's ability to carry out its core functions. If there is a problem where armed agents or armed personnel are involved, they need to rely on people who are trained to deal with such situations. Actually, I think this would allow the EPA to redirect its funds to make sure that our environment is protected.

So with all due respect, I want to make sure that it is understood that this is not a cut to the EPA's budget. This is a redirection of resources and a demilitarization of a Federal agency that, frankly, I have seen in my own State of Alabama where they showed up at a city water system in full body armor, bulletproof vests, carrying AR15s--at a city water system. It was totally uncalled for.

Mr. Chair, I urge my colleagues to support this, and I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. Chair, again, I appreciate the response of the chairman, who, I again want to reiterate, has done a fine job in the appropriations process, and I appreciate his concerns about this.

I intend to meet with Secretary Pruitt. I have known him for quite some time and have full confidence in his ability to lead the EPA in a much better direction than it has been over the last few years.

He inherited this problem. This is not an effort by the EPA to militarize. They already are militarized. This example I gave you from the State of Alabama is just one example of other instances in the State of Alabama, other instances around the country.

We depend on law enforcement to handle confrontational situations. I don't think anyone expects a Federal agency to have people who are trained to the degree that our law enforcement is to handle situations where someone might get injured or killed.

So it is, I think, totally appropriate for us at this point to redirect this funding, to remove this funding for armed agents, who, by the way, as I said early on, and if you want to see this report from Open the Books, we are purchasing 75-millimeter ammunition, 30- millimeter ammunition. It is hard to imagine what purpose they have for ammunition of that size.

Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to speak on this amendment, and I urge my colleagues to vote ``yes.'' Mr. Chair, I yield back the balance of my time.

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