Because they would continue to be responsible for pursuing Superfund cases, cutbacks would likely be spread across the division’s workload, which also includes suing oil companies, power plants and other corporations when they violate such antipollution laws as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act.
Managers in the division have expressed hope that Justice Department leaders may come up enough offsetting funds to forestall drastic measures.
The funding arrangement, which dates to the Reagan administration, is not created by statute. Instead, the E.P.A. pays the Justice Department under an agreement reached by earlier leaders of the two agencies, and which Mr. Pruitt is now considering abandoning.
The funding has allowed the division to expand its work beyond what its congressional appropriation alone would permit. Between 1987 and 2016, the E.P.A.’s reimbursements provided over $810 million to the division, amounting to 27 percent of its budget, according to a recent audit.
Congressional appropriations aides in both parties said that skepticism has emerged on Capitol Hill over Mr. Pruitt’s idea. Still, the extent to which the Republican-controlled Congress would tie his hands remains to be seen.
Asked how the Justice Department would deal with the shortfall if Mr. Pruitt follows through, Wyn Hornbuckle, a department spokesman, did not directly answer the question.
Credit Janie Osborne/Getty Images
“While the environment division continues to examine areas to achieve efficiencies and cost savings, we anticipate adequate funding to continue our core mission in safeguarding clean air, clean land and clean water for all Americans, including the important work on the nation’s Superfund sites,” he said in a statement.
He did not say which parts of the division’s work the Trump administration considers part of its core mission as opposed to inefficiencies ripe for cost savings.
Under Mr. Pruitt, the E.P.A. proposed cutting one-third of its $8 billion budget, including slashing its Superfund program by $327 million, or about 30 percent. As part of that reduction, it proposed cutting enforcement — efforts to identify the parties responsible for leaving sites contaminated and to try to make them pay for cleanup — by $67 million.
Amid expectations that enforcement resources would be diminished, the E.P.A. made its little-noticed announcement in its budget proposal that it intended to no longer reimburse the Justice Department for Superfund litigation costs, meaning the department would have to start paying for that work out of its own funds.
By contrast, the proposal submitted by the Justice Department anticipated that the Environment and Natural Resources Division would receive $25.97 million in E.P.A. reimbursements. It was not clear why the Trump administration submitted conflicting proposals.
In a statement, Liz Bowman, a spokeswoman for Mr. Pruitt, called this article “yet another conspiracy theory by The New York Times to draw space in the administration that doesn’t exist,” while saying said that a final decision would come after Congress passes a 2018 budget.
“The budget process continues to play out,” she said. “E.P.A. has not threatened D.O.J. with anything. We value the contributions made by E.N.R.D. attorneys over the years to E.P.A.’s work, continue to value that relationship and acknowledge that final funding decisions will be made once Congress acts.”
But Environment and Natural Resources Division supervisors have been discussing for months what to do if Mr. Pruitt withdraws the funding, according to officials familiar with internal deliberations. Among other things, they have asked whether it might be possible to shrink the gap using money from a fund that takes a cut of proceeds from civil debt collection litigation, an internal document shows.
Although the Senate has not taken up a 2018 budget bill for the E.P.A., the House of Representatives passed its version this month. While it would cut the E.P.A.’s overall budget by about $500 million — less than Mr. Pruitt wanted — it would also slightly increase the $1.1 billion Superfund program, and an accompanying appropriations committee report says the program’s activities should generally continue.
However, the report also instructs the E.P.A. to trim spending on Superfund enforcement by $12 million without saying how. A Democratic appropriations staff member said the legislation is ambiguous enough that Mr. Pruitt could take advantage of it to curtail reimbursements to the Justice Department.
The House Appropriations Committee does not support cutting off the Justice Department reimbursements, a spokeswoman for the Republican staff said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss legislation whose details are still in flux, as did the Democratic aide.
The Republican aide acknowledged that the current bill would leave the E.P.A. with discretion to decide where to cut its enforcement spending, but suggested that a final spending bill may provide more detailed instructions.
Ms. Bowman, the spokeswoman for the E.P.A., did not respond to follow-up questions, including whether Mr. Pruitt believed the current legislation would tie his hands.
Continue reading the main storySource: New York Times – Politics