Protesters disrupt Wheeler confirmation hearing

Protesters disrupt Wheeler confirmation hearing
© Anna Moneymaker

Environmental protesters on Wednesday disrupted Andrew Wheeler’s Senate confirmation hearing to be the permanent head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The protesters objected to Republicans on the Environment and Public Works Committee scheduling the hearing, and Wheeler participating, when the EPA is closed and most employees are furloughed due to the ongoing partial government shutdown.

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“I really must object to this hearing happening during a government shutdown!” a protester yelled in the committee room, standing up just as Wheeler began giving his opening remarks. Wheeler stopped talking while protesters chanted.

The protester and another person held signs with photos of Wheeler that read “Shut down Wheeler, not the EPA.”

Capitol Police officers quickly removed both protesters from the Capitol Hill hearing room. But other protesters continued chanting “shut down Wheeler, not the EPA” in the hallway outside the room.

The activists were part of Friends of the Earth Action. Erin Jensen, a spokeswoman for the activist environmental group, said eight protesters were arrested for the disruptions.
 

Last year, protesters hoisted signs reading “Fire Him” at one Pruitt hearing, and “Mr. Corruption” at another. At a Wheeler hearing in August, they had signs calling him a “Pruitt Puppet.”

Democrats and environmentalists have vocally opposed Wheeler as well as Republicans’ decision to hold his confirmation hearing during the shutdown, which began Dec. 22.

Some have alleged that the EPA is violating federal law by preparing for the hearing during the shutdown, when most employees must be furloughed without pay.

“I do not believe that giving the acting administrator a speedy promotion is more urgent and more important than protecting the public from contamination to our air and water and lands,” Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOvernight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record Overnight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record Bipartisan senators propose forcing EPA to set drinking water standard for 'forever chemicals' MORE (Del.), the panel’s top Democrat, said in his opening remarks shortly before Wheeler’s.

The EPA has defended its actions, and Matt Leopold, its general counsel, said the agency has been following the law.

“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 in a statement last week. “Additionally, the Constitutional appointment power allows for EPA to take the steps necessary to ensure the Acting Administrator is prepared for his hearing.”

Wheeler has led the EPA since July as its acting head. Trump formally nominated him last week to serve as the agency's permanent administrator.

Updated: 12:54 p.m.