WASHINGTON, March 26, 2014 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy testified before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works today at a hearing to discuss EPA’s proposed FY 2015 budget.

She spent most of her time responding to questions about a former employee, new proposed regulations for coal-fired power plants and the Clean Water Act.

EPA's budget request of $7.890 billion for the 2015 fiscal year “reflects a strategic approach to our budget planning process, looking toward the future rather than continuing to simply react to tough budget choices with cuts across the Agency,” McCarthy testified.

The agency is already taking steps to reduce its workforce from about 16,000 employees today toward a ceiling of 15,000, McCarthy said. But “reshaping out workforce and our work” will require “making key investments” including the use of new technologies.

“This budget will provide the support we need to move forward by targeting real progress in priority areas: communities, climate change and air quality, toxics and chemical safety, and clean water.

McCarthy told Senators that there’s evidence the atmosphere is warming and that the health of all Americans is being impacted.

“What the science tells us is when the temperature gets warmer it increases the level of ozone and that ozone pollution actually has an impact on respiratory health, as well as cardiac health,” she said.

 “Addressing the threat from a changing climate is one of the greatest challenges of this and future generations,” McCarthy testified, “The request for climate change and air quality is $1.03 billion—over $41 million more than fiscal year 2014. And it designates $199.5 million specifically for climate change work.

Several Republican senators questioned air quality rules written in part by John C. Beale, the former senior advisor in EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, who was convicted of defrauding the agency out of almost $900,000 in unearned pay and bonuses and is now serving time in prison.

Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, called for a review of all regulatory actions connected with Beale’s service at EPA.

“It seems difficult to conclude that Mr. Beale’s work on the many issues under his responsibility at the EPA can be taken at face value,” Crapo said.

But Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., was quick to defend McCarthy, noting that she should be “lauded” for her performance.

“In agency with 16,000 people, you will always have some bad actors,” Boxer noted.

U.S. Senator Deb Fischer, R-Neb., expressed concerns that coal fired plants in her state are spending so much time and resources on keeping their operations in compliance with regulations that they are not able to spend resources on innovations and new wind power.

“Is there a war on coal? A lot of people in Nebraska think there is,” Fischer asked.

“I don’t think that’s fair to say,” McCarthy responded. “What we’re trying to do is our jobs to protect public health by reducing pollution from some of the largest sources.”

McCarthy appeared before the committee just one day after the agency, along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, proposed a new rule designed to clarify protections under the Clean Water Act. In her budget request, she noted that the agency is directing $8 million and 10 FTE to advance clean water.

In addition, the budget calls for 1.775 billion for the clean water and drinking water state revolving funds - more than a $580 million decrease over FY 2014 levels.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., questioned McCarthy about how the new clean water rule will impact farmers and ranchers. In releasing the new rule, the agency noted that 53 specific conservation practices that protect or improve water quality will not be subject to dredged or fill permitting requirements set out in Section 404 of the CWA.

“This list (of practices) does not cover all existing practices that occur on farms every day,” noted Barrasso. "Will farmers and ranchers need to get permits?" For example, any rolling applicator – used for fertilizer, manure or pesticide applications – would not be exempted, pointed out a spokesperson for Barrasso.

However, McCarthy countered that the proposal is not taking away any existing exemptions. “Nobody needs a permit that didn’t need it today,” she added.

Barrasso asked whether or not the agency would expand the comment period on the proposed CWA rule to 180 days, rather than the current 90-day time period.

“I don’t believe that’s what we are currently proposing,” McCarthy responded.

On Thursday, McCarthy is scheduled to appear before the U.S. House Appropriations Committee.