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2 EPA nominees start working at agency before Senate confirmation votes

2 EPA nominees start working at agency before Senate confirmation votes

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has hired two officials nominated for senior positions to work at the agency before the Senate has had a chance to vote on them.

Peter Wright and Chad McIntosh both started work Monday as “special counsels” to acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, according to an EPA staff-wide email that Wheeler’s chief of staff Ryan Jackson sent Friday. The email was obtained by The Hill.

The hirings come as both Wright and McIntosh have nominations pending before the Senate to lead the Office of Land and Emergency Management and the Office of International and Tribal Affairs, respectively, a fact that the top Senate Democrat overseeing the EPA says is concerning and an attempt to avoid the confirmation process.

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Jackson said in his email that both men will advise Wheeler on matters related to the offices for which they have been nominated. Those offices are currently being led by career employees.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which is responsible for vetting Wright and McIntosh for their positions, held a confirmation hearing for them less than three weeks ago and has not voted on whether to advance the nominations to the full Senate. The deadline for them to answer written questions from the panel isn’t until the end of the day Monday.

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 (Del.), the top Democrat on the committee, said the news of their hiring is “troubling,” and a bad start for Wheeler’s tenure at the EPA’s helm.

“I just wrote to Mr. Wheeler today urging him to restore the public’s trust in the EPA,” Carper said in a statement.

“To announce that EPA will bring on Mr. Wright and Mr. McIntosh on the day that Administrator Pruitt departs — before they have even responded to Senators’ post-hearing questions and without notifying the Environment and Public Works Committee, the committee that has jurisdiction over the agency — not only breaks with past norm and precedents, but shows incredibly poor judgment, especially when we should be turning over a new leaf.”

The EPA said Wright’s and McIntosh’s positions are in line with the law and legal decisions regarding what candidates can do while their nominations are pending.

“Neither will be performing any duties that are reserved for the position for which they have been nominated,” an agency spokesman said.

Kevin Minoli, the EPA’s top ethics official, said in his own statement that the agency “will ensure we are in compliance with the law at all times” regarding Wright and McIntosh’s work.

Before his EPA job, Wright was a high-ranking attorney for Dow Chemical Co., which is responsible for some of the Superfund pollution sites that his office at the EPA oversees. McIntosh led Ford Motor Co.’s environmental programs before retiring last year.

Both nominees signed ethics agreements after they were nominated earlier this year, in which they agreed to recuse themselves from matters that have a “direct and predictable effect on the financial interests” of their most recent employers.

Wright’s and McIntosh’s hirings were first reported by E&E News.

Under the Trump administration, the EPA has previously hired at least two other nominees before their confirmation: Susan Bodine, the current head of the enforcement office; and Michael Dourson, who withdrew his nomination to lead the chemical office amid mounting Senate opposition.