Top Dem challenges EPA for skipping hearing on mercury pollution

Top Dem challenges EPA for skipping hearing on mercury pollution
© Keren Carrion

The chair of a House panel is crying foul over the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) failure to provide an expert to testify on the effects of toxic mercury air pollution.

Rep. Diana DeGetteDiana Louise DeGetteHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Crucial for Congress to fund life-saving diabetes research Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids — White House withdraws controversial rule to eliminate drug rebates | Grassley says deal on drug prices moving 'very soon' | Appeals court declines to halt Trump abortion referral ban MORE (D-Colo.), the leader of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations panel that oversees the EPA, said the denial left the committee with “serious questions.”

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“The EPA is supposed to be working for the American people,” DeGette said in a statement sent Monday night.

“If it’s going to ignore how a new rule would benefit public health going forward, then our committee – which is charged with overseeing the EPA – has serious questions as to whether it would still be acting in the public’s best interest.”

The committee hearing, which is slated for Tuesday morning, will look into moves the EPA has made under President TrumpDonald John TrumpUS-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' Trump talks to Swedish leader about rapper A$AP Rocky, offers to vouch for his bail Matt Gaetz ahead of Mueller hearing: 'We are going to reelect the president' MORE to undo an Obama-era mercury emissions rule that restricts levels of mercury pollution that has been linked to developmental delays in children, among other health risks. The agency announced last December it will reconsider the reasoning behind mercury pollution standards for power plants.

An EPA spokesperson, however, pushed back on DeGette’s characterization, saying it was “misleading.”

“We offered a witness for a different date as we were unable to have someone available tomorrow due to scheduling conflicts. This is customary. We also offered up a briefing to staff,” the spokesperson said.

DeGette’s office did not respond to a request for comment on EPA’s supposed scheduling conflict.

Other witnesses slated to testify before the committee include Janet McCabe, former acting assistant administrator of the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation.

This is not the first time House Democrats and agencies have butted heads when it comes to congressional oversight hearings. Since Democrats took back control of the lower chamber this year, they have increased the number of oversight hearings related to pollution rollbacks and their effects on climate change, often leading to heated arguments.

Earlier this month, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, got in a back and forth with new Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, whom the committee alleged would not set a time to testify in front of the House.

Bernhardt’s office said the secretary first wanted to have one-on-one briefings with lawmakers on the committee. His office later agreed to a compromise and testified last week after first sitting down with Grijalva.

At the hearing, Grijalva made a pointed comment about the battle over timing.

“The committee needs to know what kind of relationship we're going to have with you as an equal branch of government from now on,” Grijalva asked Bernhardt.

“Can we expect to have a healthy relationship with the Interior Department?”