The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee this morning unanimously approved the nominations of two candidates for seats on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, but unexpectedly shelved a vote on Joe Goffman’s bid to serve as head of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, apparently because too few Democrats turned up.
The committee, split 10-10 between Democrats and Republicans, had been expected to deadlock on Goffman’s nomination, an outcome that would have given Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) the option of bringing it to the full Senate through a special maneuver known as a discharge petition. With committee Republicans seemingly in lockstep opposition, the absence of a single Democrat today would have been enough to sink it had a vote been held.
Proceedings in the brief meeting were delayed as the panel awaited enough members to reach a quorum. While the committee was ultimately able to advance Annie Caputo and Bradley Crowell for positions on the nuclear panel, it took no action on Goffman.
It was unclear which committee Democrat or Democrats failed to appear or the reason. But the effect was to deal another blow to Goffman’s already slim prospects for winning Senate confirmation for the job he has held on an acting basis since President Joe Biden took office in January 2021. Time is running out on the 117th Congress, and the Senate is already facing a packed calendar.
During this morning’s meeting, EPW Chair Tom Carper (D-Del.) offered no explanation for the panel’s failure to vote on the Goffman nomination and did not mention it in a subsequent news release noting the unanimous vote to send the nominations of Caputo and Crowell to the full Senate.
Both have strong backgrounds in public service and will bring “unique professional experiences” to the five-member commission, Carper said, adding that he looked forward to their swift confirmation.
Caputo is a Republican vying to rejoin the NRC after her previous term expired last year. Crowell, a former aide to EPW member Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), also served in the Obama-era Energy Department and was later director of the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Biden nominated both in May.
A committee aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity, would only say that the vote on Goffman’s nomination would be rescheduled for a time when enough members can be present.
Goffman, a lawyer and former EPW staffer, is now in his third tour at EPA; after an unusually long wait, Biden tapped him in March to lead the air office on a Senate-confirmed basis.
During his stints at the agency and on the committee, Goffman has shown “a clear commitment to following the law in a way that provides cleaner air and a safer climate for all of us while providing predictability and certainty for industry,” Carper said this morning. “That’s why Joe has earned support from a broad coalition of stakeholders.”
But ranking member Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) again criticized Goffman for his work during the Obama administration on the Clean Power Plan, which was intended to curb carbon emissions from the power industry, and a more recent proposal to limit the spread of smog-forming pollution from coal-fired power plants and other sources across state lines.
That latter “good neighbor” proposal would drive up West Virginians’ electricity bills by 5 percent, Capito said. With inflation rising and “energy challenges at home and abroad,” she said, “we have too much at stake to put Mr. Goffman in charge of such an important EPA office.”
In a news release yesterday, Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), the only EPW Republican to vote in committee for another Biden nominee, Chris Frey, to head EPA’s research office, also cited Goffman’s work on the Clean Power Plan in announcing his opposition.
“Voting no on his nomination is the only option and I encourage the Biden administration to change course,” Cramer said in the release.
Reporter Kevin Bogardus contributed.