Senate Panel Approves Two Top Environmental Nominees (Corrected)

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By Sam Pearson

A Senate committee approved two of President Donald Trump’s nominees for top environmental posts, although the timing of their final confirmation votes is unclear.

Lawmakers on the Environment and Public Works Committee Nov. 29 approved the nominations of Kathleen Hartnett White for director of the White House Commission on Environmental Quality and Andrew Wheeler for Environmental Protection Agency deputy administrator. Both nominees were approved on a party-line vote, 11-10.

The nominees’ prospects in the full Senate are also unclear.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the committee chairman, told Bloomberg Environment that Democrats were at fault for using procedural actions to lengthen the amount of time required to confirm nominees.

“The votes are there,” Barrasso said, but many lawmakers don’t “want to have to block so many activities in the Senate because of the 30 hours that are required by the rules” to debate nominees. He said he hopes to change Senate rules to reduce this behavior.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), meanwhile, said the EPA needs to respond to outstanding document requests.

At least 95 other executive branch and judicial nominees have been voted out of committee and are awaiting final Senate confirmation.

Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), said in a Nov. 29 email to Bloomberg Environment he couldn’t comment on the timing of floor action because it was not scheduled yet.

Democrats Oppose

Similar to the nominees’ confirmation hearings, Democrats assailed the candidates as compromised and unqualified.

“These nominees are the latest in a pattern by this administration to send us candidates with work experience that directly conflicts with the mission they are supposed to execute,” Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said.

Hartnett White, who served on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality from 2001 to 2007 as a member and chairwoman, drew heavy opposition from Senate Democrats over her climate views and air regulations at her confirmation hearing Nov. 8.

Wheeler, a former chief counsel to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, more recently lobbied on behalf of energy and coal companies like Murray Energy Corp., Energy Fuels Resources Inc. and Xcel Energy as an employee of the lobbying firm Faegre Baker Daniels.

Wheeler also worked for four years in the EPA’s toxics office during the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations.

Barrasso said it was “simply untrue” that Hartnett White opposes all EPA regulations.

Joins Other Nominees

Other environmental picks are also waiting for the full Senate to act.

Susan Bodine, nominated for EPA’s assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assistance, was approved by committee July 12. Michael Dourson, nominated to serve as EPA assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention, cleared the committee Oct. 25.

(Updates to correct date of Kathleen Hartnett White’s confirmation hearing.)

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