EPW Business Meeting Statement

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) held a business meeting to consider a number of items: Aurelia Skipwith, to be Director of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service; Katherine Lemos, to be a Member and Chairperson of the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board; Substitute amendment to S. 2260, Save Our Seas 2.0: Improving Domestic Infrastructure to Prevent Marine Debris Act; S. 2099, White Horse Hill National Game Preserve Designation Act and 8 General Services Administration resolutions. Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“On the agenda before us today, we have two nominations, two pieces of legislation and eight General Services Administration (GSA) lease prospectus, including two prospectuses for Veterans Administration facilities.

“The two nominations being considered by the committee today are Ms. Aurelia Skipwith and Dr. Katherine Lemos.

“Ms. Skipwith has been nominated to lead the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an important agency responsible for enforcing federal wildlife laws and managing our nation’s treasured wildlife resources. On August 29th, nearly two weeks before her nomination hearing, I sent Ms. Skipwith a letter asking her to provide answers concerning the nature of her activities on behalf of one longtime employer, along with an explanation of the extent to which she has tried to avoid potential conflicts of interests since assuming her current responsibilities at the Department of the Interior. Less than 24 hours before her hearing, I still had not received her response.

“I, then, met personally with Ms. Skipwith on September 10th and implored her to respond to my letter. Just hours before her nomination hearing, I finally did receive a response but – regrettably — it was incomplete. As I promised repeatedly during her nomination hearing on September 11th, I subsequently provided Ms. Skipwith with another opportunity to shed light on her disclosures, this time through her responses to questions in plain English for the hearing record. Yet again, she failed to be completely forthright in her responses.

“In fact, in one of her responses, Ms. Skipwith actually suggested that I file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the information I’m seeking, such as calendar records that would help paint a picture of the meetings she’s taken since she joined the Department of Interior. Asking a senator to ‘FOIA’ for information Ms. Skipwith can easily provide is a disappointing departure from how nominees typically handle such requests from lawmakers.

“I regret to say that in the case of Ms. Skipwith, unfortunately, my willingness to give her some benefit of the doubt really has not been reciprocated by a serious effort on her part to be fully responsive to a number of my questions.

“This situation does not instill – at least in me and a number of our colleagues – confidence in her nomination. If nominees before this committee choose not to respond to legitimate and reasonable questions from any member of EPW during the confirmation process, it doesn’t offer much in the way of assurance that they will prove to be more responsive after being confirmed.  Given these concerns, I am unable to support her nomination today.

“Having said that, if Ms. Skipwith is willing and able to fully produce the records that I have requested, as well as to engage with our members on other questions that were not completely answered, it would demonstrate to me that she recognizes the importance of Congressional oversight, and I would strongly consider supporting her nomination on the Senate floor.

“And, that leads me to the nomination of Dr. Katherine Lemos to serve on the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, an important independent federal agency that is charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. As with Ms. Skipwith, a number of our colleagues in the minority initially shared serious concerns about the Lemos nomination. In this case, several questions arose during the confirmation hearing with respect to her views on climate change and its effect on the safety of chemical facilities and – in turn — to her ability to be an objective, independent safety investigator.

“In the case of Dr. Lemos, however, the nominee clarified her response in the questions for the hearing record and did, indeed, assuage the concerns of the minority. Because she clarified her responses, and did so in a timely manner, we are pleased to join our Republican colleagues in moving her nomination forward at this time.

“In addition to considering these two nominations today, we are also set to consider the Save Our Seas Act 2.0. As co-chair of the Senate Recycling Caucus, along with our colleague John Boozman, I appreciate and applaud the bipartisan leadership of Senators Whitehouse and Sullivan to improve recycling and address the widespread and worsening problem of marine debris on Planet Earth. As some of our colleagues know, prior to the markup, concerns were raised about one provision of the bill — a study on incineration — which has been removed from the Substitute that we will vote on today.  In recent days, however, we have heard from several other critics of this legislation that suggest we may have some additional work to do on this legislation, and I am committed to that effort before the measure is considered by the full Senate. 

“Let me add one last brief comment before closing and that’s just to say I’m happy that our committee is set to move legislation today that will change the name of the Sullys Hill National Game Preserve in North Dakota to its Dakota name – ‘The White Horse Hill National Game Preserve.’ This action by our committee will help to ensure that the Spirit Lake tribe’s story of the white stallion will be engrained in our nation’s history for years to come. Quite simply, this is the right thing to do, and I thank Senator Cramer for his work.

“With that, Mr. Chairman, I look forward to our business meeting and thank you, along with our colleagues and the members of our staffs, for all of the work that has made possible what I hope will prove to be a brief and productive meeting today.”