Dem senator expresses concern over acting EPA chief's 'speedy promotion'

Dem senator expresses concern over acting EPA chief's 'speedy promotion'
© Anna Moneymaker

The top Democrat on the Senate committee that oversees the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) expressed concern about Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s confirmation hearing Wednesday, which he described as “a speedy promotion.”

Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Koch network launches ad campaign opposing Trump's proposed gas tax Big Dem names show little interest in Senate MORE (D-Del.) told the committee in opening remarks that he and other Democrats were worried that the administration was seeking to push through Wheeler’s confirmation while the government was still shut down.

“I don’t 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,” Carper said.

“Our priority should be reopening our government, certainly reopening EPA and other federal agencies.”

The government shutdown is now the longest in history, hitting the 26 day mark Wednesday. Trump formally nominated Wheeler last week, during the shutdown, to be EPA’s new permanent head. Wheeler was soon thereafter seen on Capitol Hill making his rounds to meet with senators.

Wheeler has been the acting head of the agency since July, when he took over for former administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Flint residents can sue EPA over water crisis | Environmentalists see victory with Green New Deal blitz | March global temperatures were second hottest on record | EPA told to make final decision on controversial pesticide Court orders EPA to make final decision on banning controversial pesticide Former EPA chief Scott Pruitt registers as lobbyist in Indiana MORE. Pruitt resigned amidst multiple ethics investigations and scandals.

Carper pointed out that Wheeler had over 200 days to continue as acting administrator under the Federal Vacancy Act before needing a formal confirmation. He said the committee’s focus should therefore be on getting the government reopened, not Wheeler confirmed.

“You can continue serving as acting administrator and nominee for 203 more days,” said Carper. “With many EPA staff members furloughed today, a number of Dem members of this committee are concerned that we are rushing to move forward with your confirmation process.”

He added: “Meanwhile, because of the continuing shutdown across our country, our environment and public health are increasingly in jeopardy.”

However, Republicans on the committee were in strong disagreement.

Former chairman of the committee James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain Inhofe Embattled senators fill coffers ahead of 2020 Overnight Defense: Senators show skepticism over Space Force | Navy drops charges against officers in deadly collision | Trump taps next Navy chief Senators show deep skepticism on Space Force proposal MORE (R-Okla.) called the shutdown perfect timing for the hearing.

“I really do think the midst of the Schumer shutdown is a good time to confirm some of these very important nominees. There is not one position more important than the one we have right now,” he said, using a name some Republicans have given the shutdown.

“There is no one more qualified, and now that he has been acting administrator for six months, Andrew’s ability to lead the agency is never more clear.”

Committee Chairman John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoOvernight Energy: Gillibrand offers bill to ban pesticide from school lunches | Interior secretary met tribal lawyer tied to Zinke casino dispute | Critics say EPA rule could reintroduce asbestos use GOP senator issues stark warning to Republicans on health care Judd Gregg: In praise of Mike Enzi MORE (R-Wyo.) echoed similar praise.

“What a wealth of experience and expertise he will bring to this incredibly important job,” he said.