In the fourth year of the Trump administration, the Environmental Protection Agency is leaner, more cooperative, and focused on returning to core principles of environmental protection and economic growth, says Chief of Staff Mandy Gunasekara, who spoke at a digital fall policy roundtable before the Congressional Western Caucus on Wednesday.

“It turns out that overregulation was a barrier to economic growth and environmental progress,” said Gunasekara. She explained that since 2017 the EPA has cut over 66 regulations, saving businesses $94 billion in regulatory compliance costs. For each new regulation it enacts, EPA adopts five deregulatory actions, she explained.

In part these changes reflect a larger focus on transparency and cooperation by the agency. Under the Obama administration, the EPA released regulatory guidance that was developed behind closed doors and without input from affected parties.

Over the past three years, the agency has been working to make the regulatory process more transparent and made thousands of pages of documents available on its website. They are also striving to make the scientific research driving regulatory actions more publicly available.

“It is surprisingly controversial to try to increase the amount of transparency around science,” quipped Gunasekara.

But these changes have not come at the expense of environmental protection.

“Alongside the regulation and saving money and focusing the agency back to its core mission, we have continued to move the ball forward in terms of environmental progress,” Gunasekara said, citing statistics showing that air emissions have fallen 7 percent since 2017, and more than 70 percent since the passage of the Clean Air Act in the 1970s.

A focus on the Superfund sites list has resulted in the removal of more sites from the list than had been seen in decades, a sign that sites are being decontaminated and can be returned to use.

“We have deleted more sites off of our national priorities list in 2019 than had been deleted since 2001,” said Gunasekara. “We have really turned this program back on.”

Western lawmakers are grateful for a more cooperative EPA but say that some prior decisions still need to be readdressed. Congressman Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) questioned Gunasekara about a nitrate runoff issue affecting his district and spoke of the need for further EPA cooperation on the issue.

Newhouse told Western Wire that he was “grateful” for the opportunity to engage both the Western Caucus and Gunasekara on the issue of “weaponized science.”

“It is no secret that many of the legacy regulations put in place by the Obama Administration have burdened rural America, and you don’t have to look far to find an example. In our region, regional EPA employees have been unfairly punishing dairy farmers for years, forcing several dairies to permanently close their doors – all based on a flawed report,” he said.

“We cannot allow federal agencies’ regulatory decision-making to demonize whole industries, weaponize shoddy science, or rely on data that has not even been peer-reviewed.”

As the election nears, the Trump administration is continuing to release policies to cut regulation and promote infrastructure development in rural America.

The Western Caucus meeting came just before President Trump signed an executive order to modernize water management and infrastructure, a move that was praised by the Western Caucus for creating a national strategy for water management and eliminating redundancy among agencies, something that caucus members say will help ensure reliable supplies of clean water for agriculture, residents, and other industries throughout the West.

“For too long the regulatory process for constructing new water infrastructure projects has been a bureaucratic maze including different federal, state, and local agencies. Reducing burdensome red tape will mean greater access to clean water for communities across Wyoming which will lead to more economic growth and jobs in our state,” said Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.).