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Senators tear into controversial Trump environment nominee

Senators tear into controversial Trump environment nominee
© Greg Nash

Senators from both parties on Wednesday criticized Kathleen Hartnett White, a key environmental nominee from President Trump, using her past statements on climate change and fuel policy to raise concerns about her nomination. 

Hartnett White, a think tank official and former Texas environmental regulator, is an outspoken climate change skeptic and has raised questions about the science behind not just carbon emissions but also other greenhouse gases and pollutants. 

At a hearing with Hartnett White, Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee cited statements she had made on science and climate regulations to make the case against her nomination to the White House Council on Environmental Quality. 

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The board, which Hartnett White is nominated to lead as chair, advises the president on environmental issues and coordinates federal environment reviews and initiatives.

Hartnett White, Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats allege EPA plans to withhold funding from 'anarchist' cities | Montana asks court to throw out major public lands decisions after ousting BLM director | It's unknown if fee reductions given to oil producers prevented shutdowns Democrats allege EPA plans to withhold funding from 'anarchist' cities Energy innovation bill can deliver jobs and climate progress MORE (D-Del.) said, “has shown that she is not only a science denier, but actively promotes misinformation on climate, ozone, mercury, particulate matter and other known health hazards that impact our air and waterways.”

Carper noted that she had equated belief in climate change to “paganism” and highlighted her comment that ozone, a pollutant with ties to health problems, is not harmful unless “you put your mouth over the tailpipe of a car for eight hours every day.”

Other Democrats brought up her statement that renewable energy is “parasitic” and her opposition to Obama-era efforts to tackle climate change.

She defended her views on science at the hearing, even those that go against scientific observations. At one point she said carbon dioxide emissions have not gone up “drastically,” a statement at odds with the data collected by climate scientists. 

“Your positions are so far out of the mainstream [that] they’re not just outliers, they’re outrageous,” said Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyOcasio-Cortez says having Green New Deal would have helped handle COVID-19 pandemic OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Democrats push expansion of offshore wind, block offshore drilling with ocean energy bill | Poll: Two-thirds of voters support Biden climate plan | Biden plan lags Green New Deal in fighting emissions from homes Biden plan lags Green New Deal in fighting emissions from homes MORE (D-Mass.). “You are a fringe voice that denies science and economics and reality.”

Hartnett White said “there may be some mistakes” in some of her past statements, but that some of the quotations used against her were “out of context.”

She said climate change is real but said more research is needed into its causes.

“It’s likely that C02 emissions from human activity have some influence on the climate but not to the extent” some scientists have said, she said.

“We need a more precise explanation of the human contribution,” she said. 

Hartnett White defended her nomination by highlighting her time as chair of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (CEQ), saying she worked to enforce environmental laws in the state and help it conform with federal pollution regulations. 

“Several of the extremists are driving a narrative that you hate the environment and worked to give cover to polluters when you were at the Texas Commission, CEQ,” Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSexual assault case against Air Force general can proceed, judge rules House Democrat optimistic defense bill will block Trump's Germany withdrawal EPA gives Oklahoma authority over many tribal environmental issues MORE (R-Okla.) said.

“To me it looks like the the number of enforcement orders are up … I wanted to show and demonstrate what you, as the administrator of the Texas CEQ, did in following the law, regardless of who was responsible.”

But Republicans from agriculture states also criticized Hartnett White, including her repeated opposition to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which supports the corn industry. 

“I worry about your extremist views and your role as an adviser to the president,” said Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerGOP senators pan debate: 'S---show,' 'awful,' 'embarrassment' Hillicon Valley: Election officials prepare for new Russian interference battle | 'Markeyverse' of online fans helps take down a Kennedy | GOP senators unveil bill to update tech liability protections Google, Apple, eBay to meet virtually with lawmakers for tech group's annual fly-in MORE (R-Neb.).

Hartnett White has called for the RFS to be repealed. But she said Wednesday she would support Trump’s proposal to expand the program in the future. 

Hartnett White testified before the committee alongside Trump’s nominee to be deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Andrew Wheeler. 

A former EPA employee and Environment and Public Works Committee staffer, Wheeler faced a friendlier audience than Hartnett White. But Democrats did dig into his time lobbying for coal and energy firms, including leading coal miner Murray Energy. 

Democrats questioned whether Wheeler had seen a plan written by Murray Energy CEO Robert Murray designed to roll back federal regulations on the coal industry.

Wheeler said he had seen it, but didn’t remember its details. He also said he  attended two meetings — at the Energy Department and on Capitol Hill — on a controversial department plan to prop up the coal and nuclear industries.

Republicans were quick to support Wheeler’s nomination. 

“We know how well-qualified Mr. Wheeler is, and if confirmed, what a wealth of experience and expertise he will bring to a critically important role in protecting America’s public health and safety,” committee Chairman John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoSenate GOP to drop documentary series days before election hitting China, Democrats over coronavirus Hillicon Valley: Senate panel votes to subpoena Big Tech executives | Amazon says over 19,000 workers tested positive for COVID-19 | Democrats demand DHS release report warning of election interference GOP senators call on Trump to oppose nationalizing 5G MORE (R-Wyo.) said.