EPW Hearing Statement: Nominations of William Charles McIntosh and Peter C. Wright to be Assistant Administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held the hearing, “Hearing on the Nominations of William Charles McIntosh and Peter C. Wright to be Assistant Administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency.” Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“Mr. Chairman, we’re here today to consider the nominations of Chad McIntosh, who has been selected to lead EPA’s Office of International and Tribal Affairs, and Peter Wright, President Trump’s pick to lead EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management. As my colleagues know, I am a ‘recovering governor.’ For the most part, I believe that executives deserve deference in picking their leadership teams and I have agreed to confirm four Trump Administration EPA nominees by voice vote.

“I did so because I expected that this committee would hold nominees accountable for their actions and conduct necessary oversight. Doing so would following this committee’s historical precedents that have always been adhered to regardless of which political party was in the majority. This committee has the responsibility to conduct oversight of the federal agencies within our jurisdiction, as well as the leadership at those agencies.

“Any member of this committee is entitled to request an oversight hearing if he or she believes it is warranted. And historically, we have held regular oversight hearings, especially when events clearly warranted such hearings.  I can think of no time in all of my years in government where events more clearly warranted an immediate series of oversight hearings with the EPA Administrator.

“Today, we are learning of a new scandal involving Administrator Pruitt nearly every day. Let’s highlight just a few. Mr. Pruitt has used EPA staff to help his wife find a job, search for real estate, try to buy a used mattress from the Trump Hotel, get his daughter a White House internship, and buy his favorite fancy moisturizer. He spent exorbitant amounts of taxpayer dollars on an illegal $43,000 phone booth and foreign trips organized by lobbyists; he’s accepted tickets to sporting events and below-market rent on his condo from people who had business before the EPA.  At the request of political supporters, he accelerated the Superfund cleanup process and directed that EPA research dollars be used for pet projects.

“For months now, Mr. Pruitt’s behavior has been concerning and clearly unethical. However, in recent weeks, new revelations show that some of the Administrator’s actions may be illegal.   We are a separate, coequal branch of government. We don’t need permission to conduct oversight, and we are abdicating a fundamental responsibility of this body if we continue to fail to do so.

“As of today, a majority of the members of this committee, including a majority of Republicans, have stated that they would like to see Mr. Pruitt testify and provide much-needed answers about his misconduct.  I know that the Chairman announced last night that the Administrator may be coming before our committee sometime in August. Frankly, a hearing with the Administrator is already long overdue. Mr. Pruitt has come before our committee only once during his entire tenure. I don’t think anyone would argue with me when I say that if Lisa Jackson or Gina McCarthy had done even one or two of the many things Scott Pruitt has done, the majority would have had them in here testifying on practically a weekly basis. Now, as far as I know, this committee doesn’t yet have any other hearings on the books. We shouldn’t go eight weeks before Mr. Pruitt appears and answers for his unprecedented misbehavior.  I think I speak for my colleagues – both Republicans and Democrats – that we’ll clear our schedules and make time as soon as possible.

“Now, I appreciate Mr. Wright and Mr. McIntosh being here today and their willingness to serve. I was able to meet with you both yesterday, and I look forward to learning more about your visions for these important positions today. I do need to caution you both that your paths to confirmation will be troubled, at best.  Of the 60 oversight letters that Democratic Members have sent EPA, we have received complete responses to only 23.  And the last time I tried to work with EPA to expedite the consideration of a nominee, Administrator Pruitt reneged on an agreement he had previously made with me.

“So the Administrator’s failure to work constructively with this Committee has put you in a tough spot. You are also looking to work at an agency run by an Administrator who seemingly has no qualms with asking staff to do unethical and perhaps even illegal things. An Administrator who has put politics and his own personal gain ahead of the EPA’s mission to protect public health and our environment. The Committee should know how you both plan to address that kind of work culture, should you be confirmed.

“Mr. Wright, you have been nominated to serve as Assistant Administrator for the Office of Land and Emergency Management, which sets federal guidelines for both hazardous and nonhazardous waste disposal and oversees state and local waste disposal programs. The Office is also responsible for overseeing Superfund cleanups of the most contaminated sites on EPA’s National Priorities List. The Office also acts as the federal government’s environmental first responder in the event of oil spills, chemical accidents, natural and other environmental disasters. For example, the Office of Land and Emergency Management was on the scene during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and in the aftermath of last year’s hurricanes in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands.

“Mr. Wright comes to us from The Dow Chemical Company, now Dow-Dupont, where he has helped lead Dow’s Superfund cleanup work.    Mr. Wright has agreed to recuse himself from working on any Superfund sites that Dow-Dupont may be responsible for contaminating for at least two years. For Dow sites that he personally and substantially worked on, he has agreed to a permanent recusal.   I commend Mr. Wright for working on this recusal statement prior to confirmation.  He is committing to take more meaningful steps to address potential conflicts of interests than any previous Trump Administration EPA nominee.  I would ask Mr. Wright that he provide the Committee with further assurances that he will not seek a waiver from these recusals.

“But I also want to know more about how he plans to implement the duties of his office. Science informs how EPA cleans up contaminated sites and manages solid waste. For example, many Superfund sites are vulnerable to flooding and sea level rise from extreme weather and from climate change.  The level of risk posed by toxic metals leaching into groundwater from coal ash disposal sites requires careful application of toxicological, geochemical, and hydrological data.  Does Mr. Wright accept the scientific consensus that humans are responsible for climate change, and how will climate impacts inform his work? Will he continue to use the best available science in setting monitoring protocols and disposal standards for coal ash?

“The Office of International and Tribal Affairs plays a critical role in international relations at EPA and interactions with tribal communities across the Nation. Environmental issues do not adhere to international boundaries and this office assists in international concerns that expand beyond our borders. In addition, this office maintains the government-to-government relationship between the EPA and tribal nations in the United States. 

“Mr. McIntosh has previously worked at Ford Motor Company and for the State of Michigan. I look forward to hearing from Mr. McIntosh regarding his work in these areas and his plans to continue the mission of the office to which he has been nominated.

“In closing, let me again welcome our nominees and thank both of you for appearing before us today.”