Dems ask why EPA is preparing for Wheeler confirmation during shutdown

Dems ask why EPA is preparing for Wheeler confirmation during shutdown
© Anna Moneymaker

Senate Democrats say the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) might be breaking the law by having employees help with Andrew Wheeler’s confirmation process to serve as the agency's administrator during the partial government shutdown.

Under federal law and the EPA’s own contingency plan, just over 800 employees are allowed to work at the agency after its appropriations have lapsed.

But Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperFighting the opioid epidemic: Congress can't just pass laws, but must also push to enforce them Overnight Energy: Scientists flee USDA as research agencies move to Kansas City area | Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules to put industry reps on boards | New rule to limit ability to appeal pollution permits Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules when appointing industry leaders to science boards MORE (Del.), the top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a letter to the EPA that it’s not clear that the staff who are helping Wheeler prepare for his confirmation hearing before that panel next week are among those allowed to work.

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“We are concerned that preparations for your confirmation hearing may be occurring using resources that are not described in or authorized under EPA’s Contingency Plan,” Carper wrote, along with Sens. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinCan new US Strategy on Women, Peace & Security give women a real seat at the table? Ask Afghan women Maryland lawmakers slam 'despicable' Trump remark about journalists on newsroom shooting anniversary Democrats leery of Sanders plan to cancel student loan debt MORE (Md.), Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseHillicon Valley: Trump seeks review of Pentagon cloud-computing contract | FTC weighs updating kids' internet privacy rules | Schumer calls for FaceApp probe | Report says states need more money to secure elections Senate passes bill making hacking voting systems a federal crime Overnight Energy: Scientists flee USDA as research agencies move to Kansas City area | Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules to put industry reps on boards | New rule to limit ability to appeal pollution permits MORE (R.I.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenOvernight Energy: USDA expected to lose two-thirds of research staff in move west | EPA hails Trump's work on reducing air pollution | Agency eyes reducing inspections of nuclear reactors USDA expected to lose two-thirds of research staff in move to Kansas City Lawmakers pay tribute to late Justice Stevens MORE (Md.), other Democrats on the committee.

“It is difficult to understand how preparing you for next week’s confirmation hearing credibly falls within any of the categories listed in EPA’s Contingency Plan, particularly the category of employee that is ‘necessary to protect life and property.’ Using EPA resources in this manner may also run afoul of the Antideficiency Act,” they said.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpLiz Cheney: 'Send her back' chant 'inappropriate' but not about race, gender Booker: Trump is 'worse than a racist' Top Democrat insists country hasn't moved on from Mueller MORE this week formally nominated Wheeler, the EPA’s acting administrator since July, to officially take that post, a nomination that requires Senate confirmation.

Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoPoll: McConnell is most unpopular senator EPA hails Trump's work on reducing air pollution House passes bill to crack down on toxic 'forever chemicals' MORE (R-Wyo.), the environment panel’s chairman, quickly scheduled a hearing for next Wednesday on Wheeler’s confirmation.

The EPA says it is certain that the staff assisting Wheeler are allowed to be working.

“EPA has excepted a limited number of employees to prepare the Acting Administrator for the hearing on January 16th,” EPA General Counsel Matt Leopold said in a statement.

“Participation in and preparation for a confirmation hearing that has been scheduled by Congress is clearly excepted under Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel, opinions," he said. “Additionally, the Constitutional appointment power allows for EPA to take the steps necessary to ensure the Acting Administrator is prepared for his hearing.”

Despite some EPA employees working during the shutdown, they along with others across the government whose agencies are not funded, will not be paid until the shutdown ends.