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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: Trump administration doubles down on climate skepticism | Suspended EPA health official hits back | Military bases could host coal, gas exports Trump poised to sign bipartisan water infrastructure bill Overnight Health Care — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Senators face Wednesday vote on Trump health plans rule | Trump officials plan downtime for ObamaCare website | Lawmakers push for action on reducing maternal deaths 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 MarkeyElection Countdown: O'Rourke goes on the attack | Takeaways from fiery second Texas Senate debate | Heitkamp apologizes for ad misidentifying abuse victims | Trump Jr. to rally for Manchin challenger | Rick Scott leaves trail to deal with hurricane damage Senate Dems ask Trump to disclose financial ties to Saudi Arabia Dems damp down hopes for climate change agenda 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 InhofeGraham: 'Game changer' if Saudis behind journalist's disappearance GOP senators ask EPA to block states that have 'hijacked' rule to stop fossil fuel production Pentagon releases report on sexual assault risk 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 FischerCook Political Report shifts three Senate races toward Republicans Kavanaugh fight puts Senate on edge of precipice ACLU's M in anti-Kavanaugh ads won't target Flake, Collins 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 BarrassoWhy grizzly bear hunting season isn’t happening Trump poised to sign bipartisan water infrastructure bill Dems to force health care vote weeks before Nov. midterms MORE (R-Wyo.) said.