GOP senator floats holding EPA nominees over regulations

GOP senator floats holding EPA nominees over regulations

Sen. Dan SullivanDaniel Scott SullivanMan charged with threatening Alaska senators pleads not guilty China conducts combat readiness drill after US congressional delegation arrives in Taiwan Overnight Defense & National Security — A new plan to treat Marines 'like human beings' MORE (R-Alaska) has suggested holding up three Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nominations until officials provide more legal justification for their rule-making.

The Senate Energy and Public Works Committee was hearing testimony from three EPA assistant administrator nominees when Sullivan asked if they thought a hold was the right way to force agency higher-ups to answer further questions about the legality of their regulations.

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“Do you think it’s a legitimate exercise of our authority as the Congress, as the oversight committee, to put a hold on your nominations or confirmations until we get legitimate answers from the administrator on, for example, the Waters of the U.S. [rule]?” Sullivan said.

The nominees — Ann Dunkin, Jane Nishida and Thomas Burke — all demurred. But Sullivan said he might stop their nominations from going forward if EPA officials, including Administrator Gina McCarthy, don’t respond to his and other Republicans’ concerns.

“You’re a bit in the crossfire of what I actually think is a really, really important issue that your boss seems to ignore,” he said the nominees. “And that’s not acceptable.”

Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said later that holding up the nominations might be the best leverage the committee has against the EPA.

“Certainly, I can assure you that that’s what I would do and what [Sullivan] would do and what the majority would do if they don’t respond,” he said. “You have to respond to questions.”

Senators can place holds on nominees and prevent confirmation votes on them. Republicans have long criticized the EPA for its rule-making, and Sullivan said they are looking for more information on the legality of the water rule the EPA issued in May. 

EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said the agency’s legal justification for that rule is built into the final version of it.

“For over a decade, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers received requests for a rule-making to provide clarity on protections under the Clean Water Act from members of Congress, state and local officials, industry, agriculture, environmental groups, scientists and the public,” she said in a statement. 

“In developing the rule, the agencies held hundreds of meetings with stakeholders across the country, reviewed over one million public comments, and listened carefully to perspectives from all sides.”

The three nominees, all up for assistant administrator positions within the agency, faced otherwise easy questioning from the committee. Republican members said they had concerns about issues such as open records rules, conflicts of interest and a social media campaign about the water regulations, but questioning on those matters wasn’t overly contentious. 

All three nominees have been up for confirmation before. Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerFirst senator formally endorses Bass in LA mayoral bid Bass receives endorsement from EMILY's List Bass gets mayoral endorsement from former California senator MORE (D-Calif.), the committee's ranking member, said the panel approved them all on unanimous voice votes last year, though the full Senate never considered them. 

“We all attack agencies and kind of amorphous organizations,” she said to Inhofe. “But here are three people … they’re at a point where they really want to give back. So I’m hopeful, you’re a good man, and hope you’ll help me get these people to the floor and get them confirmed.”

Sullivan, a freshman senator, said after the hearing that he was “seriously contemplating” holding the nominees, regardless of their qualifications. 

“I was not bluffing, I take this very seriously,” he said. “It’s a rogue agency. They had nothing to do with it, but the administrator certainly blows off this [committee] and this Congress.”