CEQ, EPA picks squeak through committee on party-line votes

Source: Kevin Bogardus, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, November 30, 2017

Two of President Trump’s top environmental nominees took a step closer to Senate confirmation yesterday.

The Environment and Public Works Committee moved through the nominations of Kathleen Hartnett White to be chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Andrew Wheeler to be deputy U.S. EPA administrator. Both passed on party-line votes of 11-10.

Panel Democrats spent much of their time at the EPW meeting protesting Hartnett White. The senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and former chairwoman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has questioned climate change science and also has touted fossil fuels and increased carbon dioxide emissions as beneficial for life.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said the Senate needs to block the CEQ nominee, calling her a “preposterous nominee.” He brought up the legend of Roman Emperor Caligula planning to appoint his horse to the Senate.

“Approving this nominee for CEQ would be so preposterous that it would be like appointing Caligula’s horse, in that the real question becomes about the power of our fossil fuel emperors and the spine of the Senate,” Whitehouse said.

That comment sparked a rebuke from Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the EPW chairman. “Let me just say that comparing Ms. White to a horse, as one of our Democrat colleagues just did, to me is a new low. It’s disturbing, it’s demeaning and it’s dehumanizing,” Barrasso said.

Other Democrats blasted the CEQ nominee.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the committee’s ranking member, went through a list of Hartnett White’s past remarks that criticized renewable energy, environmentalists and the Clean Air Act. He said her confirmation hearing testimony earlier this month pained him.

“It was painful to watch. It was painful to hear. And we should not inflict this pain on the people of this country,” Carper said.

Leading up to today’s vote, Hartnett White downplayed her past opposition to biofuels in response to questions from committee members, which seemingly helped win over GOP senators hailing from farm states (E&E Daily, Nov. 29).


Wheeler also encountered some resistance from Democratic senators. The former longtime EPW aide became a lobbyist at Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting after leaving Capitol Hill in 2009 and worked on behalf of several energy interests, including coal giant Murray Energy Corp.

“Mr. Wheeler is the ultimate revolving-door lobbyist, no way qualified to serve as deputy administrator at the EPA,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

“As a lobbyist for the company, Wheeler personally helped Murray Energy formulate a plan for rolling back EPA’s environmental regulations and undermining the agency’s ability to carry out its mission of protecting the health of our planet and our people.”

In response, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) praised Wheeler for his work on Capitol Hill. Wheeler also has served as a staffer in Inhofe’s personal office.

“I know Andrew Wheeler probably better than anyone, except maybe his mother,” Inhofe said.

Inhofe noted several of the EPW panel’s legislative accomplishments while Wheeler was a top committee aide, including the 1998 and 2005 highway bills as well as the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

“I have to say that I totally relied on Andrew Wheeler for the background, the knowledge and the expertise that he has demonstrated year after year after year on a very bipartisan basis,” Inhofe said.

Other nominees

The EPW committee has approved several of Trump’s nominees that still have not been confirmed by the full Senate. EPA has only two Senate-confirmed officials in place at the moment — Administrator Scott Pruitt and air chief Bill Wehrum.

Carper, however, said at today’s markup that nominees could start moving on the floor if EPA picks up the pace in responding to inquiries from Democrats. He said he understands the agency plans to respond to more of their letters.

“If the responses that are being crafted by EPA now are completed in short order and are truly responsive, we’ll make progress on a number of nominations. If the responses are further delayed or are unresponsive, that progress may not be realized,” Carper said.

After the committee’s business meeting concluded today, Barrasso told reporters he has been frustrated by Democrats’ delays on nominees. He has pushed for an agreement to limit debate on the president’s picks so they can be more quickly confirmed.

“I’m actually proposing or have proposed changing the rules in the Senate to make it easier and quicker to bring some of these nominations to a vote,” Barrasso said.

“The votes are there. You just don’t want to have to allow to block so many activities in the Senate because of the 30 hours that are required by the rules, and the Democrats tend to not use the time anyway.”

While Carper expressed some optimism on moving some nominees, he was not as positive about Hartnett White. He told reporters after the markup about Russ Peterson, the former Republican governor of Delaware and CEQ chairman during the Nixon and Ford administrations, who served as a mentor to Carper during his career.

“He was a giant in Delaware, I think a giant for our country. I’ll be damned if I’m going to stand aside and let someone be confirmed to defame his legacy. I’ll be damned,” Carper said.

Reporter Niina Heikkinen contributed.