EPW Hearing Statement: The Nominations of Aurelia Skipwith to be Director of USFWS and Katherine Lemos to be Member and Chairperson of the CSB
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) held a hearing on the nominations of Aurelia Skipwith to be Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Katherine Lemos to be Member and Chairperson of the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. Below is the opening statement of EPW Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:
“Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining us. We have two individuals before us today who have been nominated to serve in very important roles.
“First, Dr. Katherine Lemos has been nominated to serve on the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The Board has investigated everything from the BP Oil spill, to fatal refinery accidents, to the chemical explosions caused by flooding during Hurricane Harvey. Regrettably, though, President Trump has not treated this important agency with the respect its mission deserves. In fact, the president’s budget proposals have repeatedly called for the Board’s elimination. Moreover, Dr. Lemos is the first nominee to the Board we have seen during this administration.
“While I am encouraged that Dr. Lemos appears to be a well-qualified nominee, it is my hope that she can assure the committee of her strong commitment to both the Board’s mission and its budget. I also hope to learn more about the Trump Administration’s support for additional Board nominations or re-nominations, since the terms of the current Board members will all expire in the next year or so.
“And, second, Ms. Aurelia Skipwith has been nominated to lead the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, our nation’s oldest federal conservation agency. The Service is responsible for enforcing wildlife protection laws, restoring habitat and assisting foreign governments with international conservation efforts.
“In Delaware, we take great pride in our two national wildlife refuges, which are home to threatened and endangered species, including the piping plover and red knot. These two migratory bird species attract thousands of visitors to our state each year. They’re not just a source of pride for Delawareans – they’re also a source of economic prosperity.
“Unfortunately, over the last two years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has taken actions that jeopardize our nation’s wildlife, despite widespread opposition. The Administration recently finalized regulations that will dramatically alter implementation of the Endangered Species Act, one of our nation’s most popular and effective environmental laws. These regulations could undermine the science that is supposed to both underpin and drive species protection decisions.
“In 2017, this Administration also adopted an unprecedented legal opinion relative to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act – a stance that every former top Department of Interior official since President Nixon’s administration – both Republicans and Democrats alike – has vehemently opposed. And now the Department, in which Ms. Skipwith currently serves, is pursuing regulations to codify this controversial Migratory Bird Treaty Act opinion.
“Meanwhile, the Trump Administration has also been rushing down what many Americans regard as a misguided path to develop our nation’s public lands, particularly in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and in core sage-grouse habitat, at the expense of thorough public process, transparency and science. Ms. Skipwith, as our committee considers your nomination, I hope you will clearly convey a willingness to revisit some of these troubling policy decisions.
“I will end with this. Almost two weeks ago, on August 29th, I sent Ms. Skipwith a letter asking her to provide answers about her interests with former employers, and the extent to which she has tried to avoid potential conflicts of interests. We met yesterday afternoon in the Capitol, and I told her how disappointed I was that – less than 24 hours before her confirmation hearing – I still had not received her response.
“Last night, just hours before this hearing, we finally received a response, and the response is incomplete. That’s unacceptable, and I sincerely hope that it’s not an indication of how you will respond to future legitimate inquiries from members of this committee, be they Democrat or Republican, should you be confirmed. Part of our responsibility on EPW is to conduct oversight over the executive branch of our government, and that includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. We need your cooperation in order for us to meet our responsibilities under the Constitution. Should you be confirmed, I hope we’ll have it.
“Thank you again for joining us here today. We look forward to hearing both of your testimonies and to the discussion with you that follows.”