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 CarperLobbying World Overnight Energy: BLM staff face choice of relocation or resignation as agency moves | Trump says he's 'very much into climate' | EPA rule would expand limits on scientific studies Democrats give Warren's 'Medicare for All' plan the cold shoulder 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.

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“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 PruittIs Big Oil feeling the heat? Overnight Energy: EPA delays board's review of 'secret science' rules | Keystone pipeline spill affecting more land than thought | Dems seek probe into Forest Service grants tied to Alaska logging EPA delays advisers' review of 'secret science' rules 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.”

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However, Republicans on the committee were in strong disagreement.

Former chairman of the committee James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeRepublicans raise concerns over Trump pardoning service members Congress braces for chaotic December The job no GOP senator wants: 'I'd rather have a root canal' 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 BarrassoTrump announces restart to Taliban peace talks in surprise Afghanistan visit Centrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren's agenda Eleven GOP senators sign open letter backing Sessions's comeback bid MORE (R-Wyo.) echoed similar praise.

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