EPW Business Meeting Statement

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a business meeting to consider Andrew Wheeler, to be Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Peter C. Wright, to be Assistant Administrator, Office of Land and Emergency Management, EPA; John Fleming, to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development; S.268, Wildlife Innovation and Longevity Driver Act (WILD Act); S.163, Alaska Remote Generator Reliability and Protection Act; S.94, Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act; S.310, Migratory Birds of the Americas Conservation Act; Nicole R. Nason, of New York, to be Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA); John L. Ryder, of Tennessee, to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA); General Services Administration (GSA) resolutions; a committee budget resolution and committee rules. Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

In addition to setting our committee budget and rules, we’ll vote today on four pieces of bipartisan legislation, five nominees and six General Services Administration (GSA) resolutions. As our Chairman knows, I enjoy serving here the most when we can find common ground to get things done.  The four pieces of legislation we are considering today have all passed out of our committee on a bipartisan basis last Congress, and I intend to support them again this year.

“Let me take a minute as we begin this meeting to highlight two bills that I am especially proud to help lead and are important for my state of Delaware.  The Migratory Birds of the Americas Conservation Act, led by Senator Cardin, would help protect migratory birds, including Red Knots, which migrate annually through Delaware, attracting birders from throughout the world. The Wildlife Innovation and Longevity Driver Act—also known as the WILD Act—would encourage innovation to protect endangered species, better manage human-wildlife conflicts, prevent poaching and wildlife trafficking, and combat invasive species.

“Three nominees we are considering today were also reported out of this committee last Congress.  Two of those are John Ryder, nominee to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority, and John Fleming, nominee to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development. 

“The third is Peter Wright, who has once again been nominated to serve as EPA Assistant Administrator, leading the Office of Land and Emergency Management.  I appreciate Chairman Barrasso’s agreement to ensure that if Mr. Wright is confirmed, he will appear before the Committee in short order to discuss the agency’s efforts to clean up contaminated Superfund sites.  I also hope that many of the other EPA Assistant Administrators, who this Committee has not seen since their confirmation hearings, would similarly be invited to testify soon.  In the last Congress, the minority staff and I worked with EPA to negotiate a set of significant policy concessions that enabled us to feel comfortable with a quick confirmation process for Mr. Wright. EPA has not yet indicated whether it remains willing to make those same commitments, and so, for now, I will refrain from supporting Mr. Wright’s confirmation.  I hope they do so, and we can move his nomination expeditiously.

“Today, we are also considering the nomination of Nicole Nason to be Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration. It has been more than two years since there has been an administrator at the agency, the longest gap in leadership in more than 100 years. It’s my hope that Ms. Nason’s nomination is a signal that the administration is ready to work with Congress on reauthorizing our nation’s surface transportation programs, and I hope that Ms. Nason will be a real partner with us in that effort. I must say, though, that I was disappointed that Ms. Nason did not clearly commit to sharing materials I requested at the same time they are provided to FOIA requestors or House Committee chairs as part of her answers for questions for the record.  I will support her today, but I may seek additional clarification from her on that matter.

“That brings us to the nomination of Andrew Wheeler. When Mr. Wheeler was named EPA Acting Administrator in July of last year, I sent him a letter urging him to heed the lessons of the past and restore the confidence of the American people in the agency’s mission of protecting public health and our environment. I also cautioned Mr. Wheeler that the damage done by Scott Pruitt would not be easily undone.

“It brings me no joy to say that he has not done what I had hoped he would do in a number of important respects.  In fact, in many instances, Mr. Wheeler has gone further than his predecessor in his rejection of important measures that are supported by a broad list of environmentalists and industry. For example, Mr. Wheeler has decided to ignore the chorus of coal-fired utilities, public health and religious leaders who have urged the Trump administration to keep the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards Rule in place and effective. 

“In fact, under Mr. Wheeler’s leadership, EPA has issued an unnecessary proposal that undermines the legal foundation of MATS, which puts the entire rule in legal jeopardy.  The proposal also requests comment on whether the standards should be rescinded altogether.  In this MATS rollback proposal, EPA is willfully ignoring the actual benefits of reducing air toxics that permanently damage children’s brains and cause cancer, and ignoring the fact that the compliance costs were a third of what were originally estimated.

“On another front, despite the repeated requests to negotiate a reasonable compromise on fuel economy and greenhouse gas tailpipe standards, under Mr. Wheeler’s lead, EPA is moving forward to finalize a proposal that all but freezes standards in place for the better part of a decade, and all but ensures that the auto industry spends the next half-dozen years embroiled in litigation with California and another dozen states.

“On a third front, despite united industry and environmental group support for the ratification of the Kigali Amendment that encourages the phase down of HFCs for American-made clean technology, under Mr. Wheeler’s lead, EPA has been the loudest voice opposing the treaty. 

“Despite explicit assurances provided to my office that EPA would follow through with Scott Pruitt’s commitment to protect both consumer and commercial users from methylene chloride—a dangerous chemical that has killed dozens of people, including properly trained professionals—under Mr. Wheeler’s lead, EPA has decided to exempt workers from the ban.

“And in our hearing in this room several weeks ago, Mr. Wheeler would not commit to us that he would set a drinking water standard for Perfluorinated Alkylated substances, or PFAS, and subsequent press reports have confirmed that the Agency has not included such a standard in its PFAS management plan. 

“As of today, Mr. Wheeler has 183 days remaining under the Federal Vacancies Act in which he can continue serving as both the nominee and the acting administrator. We should not move so quickly with Mr. Wheeler’s nomination in light of his failure to ensure that EPA acts responsibly, especially in areas where there are such clear ‘win-wins’ that most EPA Administrators would have welcomed the opportunity to implement.

“I look forward to a continued dialogue with my colleagues in the Senate and with the Administration over these and many other concerns, and I hope that dialogue leads us to a consensus on issues like the ones that I have just outlined, a consensus that further improves our environment and our health, while enhancing economic growth and job creation.  Thank you.”