EPW Hearing Statement: Hearing on the Nomination of Andrew Wheeler to be Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) held the hearing on the nomination of Andrew Wheeler to be Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“Let me begin by welcoming our nominee this morning and thanking him for meeting with my staff and me in our office yesterday afternoon.

“Just one week ago, President Trump nominated you to be the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the agency you already lead as acting administrator. If I’m not mistaken, under the Federal Vacancies Act, you can continue to serve as both the EPA acting administrator and the president’s nominee for 203 more days. With many EPA staff members furloughed today on the 26th day of President Trump’s government shutdown, a number of the Democratic members of this committee are concerned that we are rushing to move forward with your confirmation process.

“I realize we don’t all agree on this, but my view is that EPA is shut down largely because President Trump wants Congress to approve an additional $6.5 billion in funding now for a 2,000-mile wall along our southern border with Mexico that the Mexicans were originally supposed to pay for. Meanwhile, because of the continuing shutdown across the country, our environment and public health are increasingly in jeopardy.

“With much of EPA shut down, rules are not being written.  Drinking water and power plant inspections are not being performed. Superfund sites are not being cleaned up. The safety of new chemicals is not being assessed. Public meetings are being cancelled.

“Just as important, 14,000 furloughed EPA employees are unsure if they will be able to afford their mortgages, daycare providers, or grocery and electricity bills. Some of those furloughed employees appear to have been asked to help prepare for this very hearing. Yet, despite that, this Committee is moving quickly to process your nomination.

“I do not believe that giving the acting administrator a speedy promotion is more urgent and more important than protecting the public from contamination to our air and water and lands. Our priority should be reopening EPA and the other closed federal agencies. 

“The day after Mr. Wheeler was named EPA Acting Administrator last summer, I sent him a letter. In that letter, I reminded Mr. Wheeler of the challenge and opportunity he was granted to chart a new course for the agency after the scandal-plagued tenure of Scott Pruitt.

“Mr. Wheeler is certainly not the ethically bereft embarrassment that Scott Pruitt proved to be and – to be fair – he has engaged more frequently and substantively than Scott Pruitt with both Congress and EPA career staff. I knew that Mr. Wheeler and I would not always agree. But I hoped that he would moderate some of Scott Pruitt’s most environmentally destructive policies, specifically where industry and the environmental community are in agreement.

“Regrettably, my hopes have not been realized. In fact, upon examination, Mr. Wheeler’s environmental policies appear to be just as extreme as his predecessor’s despite the promises that Mr. Wheeler made when he first appeared before our Committee.

“For example, Mr. Wheeler said repeatedly then that he agreed with a goal that many of us share—striking a deal between automakers and the State of California on fuel economy and greenhouse gas tailpipe standards. The entire automobile industry, many Members of Congress, and other stakeholders have asked repeatedly for a compromise that would provide certainty and predictability for the industry. However, instead of making a serious effort to find the win-win outcome he envisioned, Mr. Wheeler signed off on a proposal that preempts California and freezes standards for the better part of a decade.

“I have heard that the Trump Administration now plans to finalize a 0.5 percent annual increase in the stringency of the standards – a rate that is ten times weaker than the current rules. This will only lead to extensive litigation and uncertainty for automakers. That’s not a win-win outcome.  It’s a lose-lose.

“Here is another example of Mr. Wheeler’s forgotten promises—Mr. Wheeler recently signed a proposal to remove the legal underpinnings of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. EPA decided it is no longer, quote, ‘appropriate and necessary’ to protect the brains of infants from mercury and air toxic pollution emitted by electric utilities.

“Using outdated data and deeming that some benefits—like reductions in cancer, birth defects and asthma attacks—are no longer important to consider, EPA is setting a dangerous precedent and putting MATS in legal jeopardy. EPA has gone so far as to request public comment on whether the standards should be eliminated.

“Mr. Wheeler says this action was necessary and that the proposal strikes a balance. Unfortunately, that’s not true.  No court has ordered this action.  No utilities are asking for this action.  And this proposal is not needed to protect public health. In fact, the utility industry is in full compliance with these standards, at one-third of the expected costs. Think about that: one-third of the costs. Every stakeholder—from coal-fired utilities, to religious leaders, to environmental organizations, to the Chamber of Commerce—urged this Administration not to take this step. Surprisingly, Mr. Wheeler has chosen to ignore the chorus of stakeholders who all hoped he would chart a more responsible path.

“A final example of Mr. Wheeler’s failure to lead lies in the agency’s reported opposition to submitting to the Senate for ratification the Kigali Treaty to phase out harmful refrigerants. Safer substitutes are made in Texas and Louisiana with American technology by companies whose investments and jobs are at risk when China dumps cheaper, polluting product onto the market. Ratification of this treaty is supported by a truly staggering list of stakeholders that range from the American Chemistry Council to the Chamber of Commerce to FreedomWorks to the Sierra Club – everyone, it seems, except EPA. 

“Mr. Wheeler, when you worked with us in the Senate, you were able to identify areas where compromise was possible. It remains my hope that you can reverse course and commit to seize upon the policy ‘win-wins’ like these and others that protect our environment and public health while providing industry with certainty. That is what the American people expect and deserve from anyone who’s been nominated to lead the Environmental Protection Agency—and, based on what we’ve seen so far, without such commitments, that is not the nominee that we have before us today.

“Thank you.”