The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday morning advanced the nominations of Kathleen Hartnett White for the top White House environmental post and Andrew Wheeler to be deputy administrator of the EPA.
The committee approved both nominees, who were both strongly opposed by Democrats, on party lines. They now go before the full Senate for a vote.
Democrats especially resent Hartnett White, who they say holds views contrary to established science on climate change that make her unfit to lead the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), which coordinates environmental policy at the White House. Hartnett White would be in charge of implementing President Trump’s executive orders on energy and the environment.
“A nominee who can’t follow the thread from carbon pollution, to ocean warming, to sea level rise, who imagines science that is not there, and ignores science that is there, is a preposterous nominee,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said before the vote.
Hartnett White is former chairwoman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality who last worked at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank that has received funding from Koch Industries, Exxon Mobil, Chevron and other energy companies.
She has said "carbon dioxide is not a pollutant" and once referred to former President Obama's climate change policies as "deluded and illegitimate."
She also has said those who believe in climate change follow a "kind of paganism" for "secular elites.”
White reaffirmed her views to the committee, touting carbon dioxide as “necessary for life on Earth,” in her responses to questions from members released Tuesday.
“Under Hartnett White, CEQ would stand for crazy environment quackery,” Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said Wednesday, to laughs from fellow Democrats.
Hartnett White also reiterated her support for the Renewable Fuel Standard, helping her win the votes of midwestern senators who were concerned about prior statements she made on the subject.
She said updated information had changed her mind about the RFS, which requires increasing amounts of ethanol and other biofuels be blended into the nation’s fuel supply.
“I support all forms of energy and that includes ethanol,” Hartnett White wrote. “Our country is blessed with diverse and abundant energy sources among which ethanols are making an increasingly significant contribution.”
Hartnett White once wanted to repeal the standard, referring to it as “counterproductive and ethically dubious.”
Wheeler, tabbed for EPA’s No. 2 spot, is an energy industry lobbyist whose ties to Murray Energy, a privately owned coal giant, have drawn scrutiny. He previously worked on the staff of Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., a committee member and former chairman known for his climate change skepticism.
Wheeler told the committee during his confirmation hearing he met with the Department of Energy on behalf of Murray a few months ago about Energy Secretary Rick Perry's proposal to subsidize coal and nuclear plants.
He said he also participated in a Capitol Hill meeting on the subject.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an independent agency, is considering the proposal to pay coal and nuclear plants to support the “resilience and reliability” they provide to the grid.
Bob Murray, the outspoken CEO of Murray Energy and ally of Trump, has been a leading proponent of Perry’s proposal, which is opposed by most of the energy industry because they say it would upset competitive power markets.
Wheeler de-registered himself as a Murray lobbyist in an Aug. 11 filing with Congress.
“[Wheeler] is the ultimate revolving door lobbyist,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., before Wednesday’s vote. “Time and time again he has put the interests of his clients above the interests and well-being of the American people. He is so beholden to the fossil fuel industry.”
Inhofe, at Wednesday’s vote, criticized Democrats for harshly rebuking Hartnett White and Wheeler.
“I am sure name calling makes everyone on the Left feel better,” he said. “We have people out there singing [White’s] praises. You don’t need to get down in the mud and name calling on these things.”