Biden’s EPA air nominee draws miners’ endorsement

By Kevin Bogardus, Sean Reilly | 05/20/2022 01:45 PM EDT

The United Mine Workers of America’s support could prove key as Joe Goffman readies for a contentious confirmation battle that will subject the Biden administration’s climate agenda to scrutiny.

Joe Goffman is EPA's acting air chief.

Joe Goffman is President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead EPA’s air office. School of Transnational Governance EUI/YouTube

A champion of climate change rules nominated to lead EPA’s air office has picked up support from an unlikely group that often opposes efforts to transition away from traditional fuel sources — coal miners.

The United Mine Workers of America’s endorsement could prove key as Joe Goffman, the nominee to be EPA’s assistant administrator for air and radiation, readies for a contentious confirmation battle that will subject the Biden administration’s climate agenda to scrutiny.

“We believe Mr. Goffman is well qualified to serve as AA for OAR, as demonstrated by his previous work for EPA in the Clinton and Obama Administrations, as well as his private sector and academic experience at Harvard’s Kennedy School,” said the UMWA letter obtained by E&E News and signed by Cecil Roberts, the union’s president. It was addressed to Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), the panel’s ranking member.


The union is the largest in North America representing coal miners. It is considered an influential voice with lawmakers from coal-rich states who often battle with EPA over the agency’s air and climate regulations, including some who will vote on Goffman’s confirmation.

“We recommend that his nomination be confirmed by the Committee and by the full Senate,” Roberts continued in the letter, dated yesterday.

Goffman is scheduled to appear before the EPW Committee next week for his confirmation hearing.

“We do not always see eye to eye with Mr. Goffman, but we do have great respect for his honesty, openness and candor in discussing complex regulatory decisions facing the agency,” Phil Smith, a UMWA spokesperson, told E&E News.

“He has always been willing to listen to not just labor’s concerns but specifically the UMWA’s concerns when it comes to actions the EPA may be taking. From our perspective, that’s a quality someone in that position should have,” Smith said.

In his letter, Roberts said that the mine workers union has known Goffman for more than 30 years, “dating back to the acid rain debates of the 1980s and enactment of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments.” Those amendments created a landmark program to crack down on coal-fired power plant pollution that helped spawn acid rain; Goffman worked at EPA on the program’s implementation in the early 1990s.

Neither he nor EPA press staffers addressed emailed questions this morning asking whether he connected with the union in that role. In a statement, EPA spokesperson Tim Carroll hailed “the strong show of support for Joe Goffman’s nomination.”

“From his decades of work in public service and the academic field, Goffman brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the agency and is exceptionally qualified to lead the Office of Air and Radiation,” Carroll said. “We look forward to swift action from Congress on his confirmation.”

Sen. Joe Manchin (D), who comes from the coal state of West Virginia, was copied on the mine workers’ letter supporting Goffman. Manchin has struggled with President Joe Biden’s agenda to fight climate change and last year voted against confirming another EPA nominee, Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe, over her role in crafting the Clean Power Plan, the Obama-era EPA rule designed to curb power plants’ carbon emissions.

Goffman also worked on developing that rule when he served at EPA during the Obama administration.

“Senator Manchin is reviewing the nomination,” Erin Heeter, a Manchin spokesperson, told E&E News.

UMWA has backed other EPA nominees in the past.

In 2017, the union praised Andrew Wheeler when he was nominated for EPA deputy administrator during the Trump administration. Wheeler, who later became administrator, worked with UMWA to try to secure the union’s pension and health care funds as a lobbyist for coal company Murray Energy Corp.

Biofuels group gets behind Goffman

Goffman has also won backing from a number of other groups with interests before EPA, including the Renewable Fuels Association.

In a letter obtained by E&E News, RFA, which represents the ethanol industry, expressed “strong support” for Goffman’s “swift confirmation” as head of the agency’s air office.

“Mr. Goffman is eminently qualified to serve the public in this position,” said the letter, which was signed by Geoff Cooper, RFA’s president and CEO, and dated Tuesday. It too was addressed to Carper and Capito.

In a statement shared with E&E News, Carper said Goffman, who is currently principal deputy assistant administrator in EPA’s air office, has “a long history of public service, including working for me in the Senate on the Environment and Public Works Committee.”

“The broad support his nomination has from industry, labor, and environmental groups is a testament to his long career,” Carper said. “President Biden selected Joe because he has the right skills to serve in this role.”

Other trade groups in Goffman’s corner are the Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned utilities, and the American Forest & Paper Association (Greenwire, March 15). Both industries are leading sources of air pollution.

“While we have not always agreed with Mr. Goffman on every issue, we respect his willingness to hear from stakeholders, to understand their perspectives, and to engage in reasoned dialogue based on the evidence,” Heidi Brock, the paper association’s president and CEO, said in a Wednesday letter to EPW Committee members.

The Renewable Fuels Association’s backing for Goffman’s candidacy comes as its members await a final decision on an EPA proposal setting standards for the amounts of ethanol and other biofuels that must be blended into national gasoline and diesel supplies under the renewable fuel standard (E&E News PM, Dec. 7, 2021).

An announcement is expected by June 3, RFA spokesperson Ken Colombini said in an email this morning. In comments filed earlier this year, the group gave the draft rule a mixed review. While strongly backing the proposal’s “renewable volume obligation” for 2022, it opposed a retroactive cut to the 2020 level.

In an interview, Colombini said that RFA’s support for Goffman’s nomination was based on its history with him and that it has previously backed candidates of both parties, including Biden’s nomination of Michael Regan to head EPA. Asked whether the group hoped that its backing for Goffman might help make a difference in the final rule, Colombini said, “We just kind of hope and expect that he’ll do the right thing.”

In his statement, Carroll also did not answer questions about Goffman’s role in the renewable fuel standard, which is run by the air office.

“The agency’s actions on the RFS will continue to follow the Administrator’s long-standing approach, which includes robust engagement with all interested stakeholders, as the agency works to get the program back on track by following the law and expert analysis by EPA career staff to fulfill Congress’s intent for the program,” Carroll said.

The shape of the renewable fuel program is a perennial battleground between ethanol interests and the oil refining industry.

In 2017, objections from one Corn Belt lawmaker to the Trump administration’s handling of the program almost sank the nomination of Bill Wehrum to head the air office. Then, as now, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) sits on the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Irked by what she saw as an EPA tilt in favor of oil refiners, Ernst threatened to withhold support for Wehrum’s nomination, a step that could have killed it on the panel, almost evenly split along party lines. It took reassurances from then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to earn Ernst’ s support (E&E Daily, Oct. 20, 2017).

With the committee now divided 10-10 between Democrats, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Republicans, Ernst’s stance on Goffman’s nomination could be key as he seeks confirmation. A spokesperson did not reply to an email this morning asking whether Ernst has decided how she will vote in committee.

A spokesperson for the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, which represents refineries, did not reply to emailed questions this morning.

Assuming that the nomination makes it to the Senate floor, it could still face blocking tactics by two other GOP lawmakers.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), critical of EPA for not approving Louisiana’s request to permit carbon sequestration wells, has holds on all EPA nominations, including that of Goffman. Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), who objects to the agency’s handling of pollution control requirements for her state’s largest coal-fired power plant, has placed a similar freeze on EPA nominees with the exception of David Uhlmann, in line to become head of the agency’s enforcement office.

Press officials for both lawmakers confirmed this morning that their respective holds remain in place.

Reporter Marc Heller contributed.