Chairman Carper’s Opening Statement: Hearing on Council on Environmental Quality

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Wednesday, May 11, 2022, the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing on the work of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) under Chair Brenda Mallory’s leadership.

Below is the opening statement of Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“Let me begin by welcoming our witness, Brenda Mallory, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, back before our committee today. We appreciate you being here to discuss the CEQ’s work since your confirmation last year.

“Let me also thank you for celebrating Earth Day in Delaware with us last month. Your visit to Delaware State University and Delaware Technical Community College made a real impact on everyone we met, especially the students, which ran the gambit from kindergarten to doctoral programs. You are welcome in Delaware at any time.

“Since the moment he took office, President Biden has made leading our country out of the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression, as well as addressing climate change and advancing environmental justice top priorities of his administration. The role that CEQ plays in achieving these goals cannot be understated.

“CEQ ensures that federal agencies work in harmony to protect our environment and improve public health, which is critical to creating a nurturing environment for job creation and preservation. With more than 8 million Americans back to work since President Biden took office, it’s clear that CEQ’s urgent work is not stymying economic growth.

“Earlier this year, the Fourth National Climate Assessment made clear that nations throughout the world must dramatically and urgently reduce emissions if we are to avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change.

“These impacts are already being felt in communities in the United States and across our planet, showing us just how vulnerable we are to climate change and extreme weather.

“Just last week, we saw four days of rain on the East Coast produce flooding in places where it rarely occurs.

“Prior to that — in the last year alone — we witnessed record heat waves in Oregon, where only a third of households have air conditioning. Wildfires burned millions of acres in California, Montana, Arizona, and other Western States.

“The same hurricane that knocked out access to power and water for a million people in Louisiana and Mississippi then went on to produce flash floods in New Jersey and New York. People there actually drowned in their basements, unable to escape the torrent of floodwater.

“According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, damages from last year’s disasters totaled roughly $145 billion — that’s 2021 alone. So it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Biden Administration’s focus on climate action is both timely and critical.

“Addressing the long-standing environmental inequities in our nation is equally important and also linked to climate change.

“We know that while climate change threatens to disrupt all communities — and affects all aspects of our economy — it poses unique threats to communities that are already vulnerable.

“In other words, Americans living in lower-income and marginalized communities have less ability to prepare for and recover from extreme weather. The least among us have the most to lose from inaction on climate.

“That is why our federal agencies need to address these twin goals of climate action and environmental justice together. Fortunately, we have an important tool to improve federal analysis and decision-making — the National Environmental Policy Act, known as NEPA.

“NEPA established the Council on Environmental Quality in 1969. This was done, in part, to provide agencies with high-quality information on the environmental effects of their proposed actions.

“Over the years, we have made a number of adjustments to NEPA, ensuring that the law functions as intended while, also, not being overly burdensome to industry.

“Earlier this year, CEQ finalized revisions to the rules that implement NEPA. This restored critical protections under NEPA and also provided agencies and other stakeholders with greater certainty as they begin to implement the programs created under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. These revisions will ensure that agencies consider the cumulative impacts of a project, such as the implications for climate change, and the question of whether the impact is on a community that is already vulnerable.

“CEQ also has been coordinating efforts across the federal government to improve the federal permitting process for clean energy technologies, such as carbon capture and sequestration. Today, I look forward to hearing more about those efforts from our witness.

“I would also be remiss if I didn’t set the record straight with respect to the Biden Administration’s policy actions and gas prices in our country. The last time I checked, the United States is the top oil and gas producer in the world, producing more than we consume. And, with more than 9,000 unused, approved permits to drill onshore, the oil and gas industry — not the federal permitting process — bears more than a little responsibility for the current level of domestic production.

“In addition to its permitting efforts, CEQ has been hard at work delivering on the Biden Administration’s promise to prioritize environmental justice and equitably distribute the benefits of climate action. As part of that effort, CEQ has released a draft version of its Climate and Environmental Justice Screening Tool, helping agencies better identify underserved or overburdened communities. They have also recently hired a new Director of Environmental Justice to oversee this important work.

“CEQ has also established sustainability goals for federal buildings and other federal procurements and launched a $1 billion effort — known as the America the Beautiful Challenge — to support conservation and restoration projects across the nation.

“All of this demonstrates the administration’s commitment to leading by example when it comes to doing what is good and what is right for our planet.

“So, we are looking forward to hearing from Chair Mallory on the critical efforts she’s leading and whether CEQ has the resources it needs to effectively carry out this work.”