Top Dem accuses EPA of refusing to reply to oversight requests

Top Dem accuses EPA of refusing to reply to oversight requests

The top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee said Tuesday that the EPA is dragging its feet on requests for information.

At a confirmation hearing for President Trump’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency’s enforcement and compliance office, Sen. Tom CarperTom CarperDems push for more action on power grid cybersecurity Overnight Energy: Lawmakers challenge Trump's proposed EPA cuts Overnight Energy: Tillerson maintains support for Paris deal despite Trump decision MORE (D-Del.) said the EPA needs to reply to oversight requests before he’ll support moving forward with agency nominations. 

“The minority remains disappointed that the committee has not received complete written responses from Administrator [Scott] Pruitt to 11 oversight letters the committee has sent to the EPA this year,” Carper said. 

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“Absent a heartfelt commitment by the EPA to provide complete and timely responses to our current information requests, I will find it very difficult to support moving forward with consideration of any EPA nominees.”

The EPA and Republicans on the EPW committee said agency officials have responded to 386 of the 416 letters they have received from members of Congress this year, including many from Carper and other members. Democratic aides have said some of those responses are lacking, however.

Democrats have previously raised concerns about the Trump administration's oversight responses in light of reports that officials have told agencies to only reply to requests from Republican committee chairs. 

“I agree that executive branch agencies must be required to respond to the committee’s reasonable oversight requests,” Sen. John BarrassoJohn BarrassoSunday shows preview: Senate healthcare debate heats up A frantic scramble before possible healthcare vote next week Overnight Healthcare: Senate GOP leader expects health vote next week | Senate Republicans consider deeper Medicaid cuts | Dems vow to block Senate work MORE (R-Wyo.), the committee's chairman, said. 

“I’m going to work to make sure the executive branch agencies under this administration work diligently and expeditiously to respond to the committee’s responsible oversight requests.”

The oversight tussle came during a confirmation hearing for Susan Bodine, Trump’s nominee to head the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, and three Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) nominees, inducing the renomination of Chairwoman Kristine Svinicki. 

The NRC nominees drew few complaints from the EPW committee. Bodine attracted more attention from Democrats, who said they worry the agency will rein in its pollution enforcement activities given both her work in the private sector and the leadership of Pruitt, whom they have long accused of being soft on polluters.

Bodine said that EPA “enforcement has always been nonpartisan,” and she committed to continue reporting the agency’s enforcement activities if confirmed to her post. 

Asked by Carper about oversight requests from Congress, Bodine promised to be responsive. 

“If confirmed, my bias would always be to respond to any member of Congress, whether they’re in the majority or the minority, and certainly would not see that there would be any change in practice from EPA,” she said.