President Trump’s nominee for chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality has apparently assuaged worries of key Senate Republicans on her path to confirmation.
Kathleen Hartnett White faced tough questioning from farm-state senators over her past criticism of biofuels, but the senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation downplayed her opposition to ethanol and the renewable fuel standard during her confirmation hearing and in private meetings with senators since then (Greenwire, Nov. 8).
This morning, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will vote on Hartnett White’s nomination. GOP senators’ worries over biofuels held up another Trump nominee — Bill Wehrum, who has since been confirmed to lead U.S. EPA’s air office — but the CEQ pick hasn’t sparked similar hostility.
Asked yesterday if Hartnett White’s nomination has a chance, Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), who sits on the EPW panel, said, "Yes, she does."
Fischer told reporters Hartnett White gave her "good responses" regarding the RFS in a one-on-one meeting.
"I asked her a number of questions, and she had good responses," Fischer said. "It was between the two of us."
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) asked Hartnett White about biofuels at her hearing earlier this month. He said yesterday that he will vote in favor of her nomination at today’s markup.
"That’s my intent," Rounds said.
The EPW member said he was helped by Hartnett White revising her position on biofuels.
"I’m comfortable with her," Rounds said, noting Hartnett White has "made some pretty clear statements" that ethanol is "economically viable" and that her prior stance was based on outdated information.
"That has helped me a lot," he said.
Other EPW members sounded positive notes on the CEQ nominee.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who helped hold up Wehrum over RFS concerns, said yesterday she was still reviewing Hartnett White’s nomination. But she did offer that the CEQ pick has been responsive to her questions.
"She has answered my questions, and she has stated that she will uphold the renewable fuel standard. That’s what I’m most concerned about," Ernst said.
Hartnett White has also stated her newfound embrace of biofuels in her written responses to lawmakers obtained by E&E News.
In response to questions from EPW ranking member Tom Carper (D-Del.), she said ethanol has not hurt the food supply, unlike her previous comments.
"New data regarding the increased size of the corn crop and for innovative new uses of ethanol have altered my previous comments about renewable fuels," Hartnett White told Carper.
"Thanks to the prodigious increase in the US corn crop and innovative science, America and the world are enjoying a ‘win-win’ gain in our energy supply and global food supply."
The EPW panel’s top Democrat has been pushing back on Hartnett White’s nomination, saying he has been talking to Republicans who have been left confused by the CEQ nominee.
"Just baffled by her testimony," Carper said. "How someone could be so strident in her opposition to biofuels, the renewable fuel standard, climate change, any number of issues, and she just backed away from them as if she had never held those positions for the last eight or nine years."
Carper said several Republican senators are taking "a close look, maybe a second look," at Hartnett White’s nomination.
Vote on pick for EPA deputy
The EPW panel will also vote on another nomination today: Andrew Wheeler, picked for deputy EPA administrator. Wheeler was a longtime aide for the committee and is a familiar face for several of its Democratic and Republican members.
Carper said he doesn’t believe Democrats will vote for Wheeler’s nomination during today’s markup but that the EPA nominee may receive support from some in the minority party later on the Senate floor.
"At the business meeting this week, I would say probably not," Carper said about Wheeler’s nomination. Nonetheless, if EPA continues to improve on responding to Democrats’ oversight letters, that may help Wheeler’s cause.
"If they make real and continued progress, I can see some Democrats voting for Mr. Wheeler later on," said the Delaware senator.
Wheeler’s lobbying record as a principal with Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting has come under scrutiny from Democrats. His work on behalf of a former client, coal giant Murray Energy Corp., has garnered particular attention.
In written responses to Carper’s questions, Wheeler was asked about his past work for Murray Energy, including whether he enlisted Administrator Scott Pruitt to speak to the National Mining Association to push for leaving the Paris climate change accord.
"I do not recall any role in enlisting Administrator Pruitt to speak at NMA," Wheeler said. In a separate answer, Wheeler said he agreed with Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the agreement.
Wheeler also said he only recalled working in opposition to two Clean Air Act regulations issued by the Obama-era EPA, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and the Clean Power Plan.
Wheeler did answer several questions about climate change with the following: "I do believe that the climate is changing and that humans have an impact on the climate."
In her own responses, Hartnett White also made note of human activity impacting the climate but also said, "The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact, and what to do about it, are subject to continuing debate and dialogue."
She has also defended her membership in the CO2 coalition, which has pushed back against mandates to reduce carbon emissions. Hartnett White said the group brings "public awareness" to science that should be part of the debate over climate change and energy.
"CO2 is necessary for life on Earth," she said in a response to Carper.
Republicans hope to move the nominees through the committee today. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), EPW chairman, said he believes both Hartnett White and Wheeler will be approved by his panel.
"I expect we’ll be able to report both of the nominees," Barrasso told reporters yesterday.