Committee approves Wheeler, other bills and nominees

Source: Kevin Bogardus, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler cleared one hurdle today as he moves toward full Senate confirmation to lead the agency.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved Wheeler’s nomination as head of EPA on a party-line 11-10 vote.

The Senate confirmed Wheeler in April of last year as deputy administrator. He has been acting chief since July after his predecessor, Scott Pruitt, stepped down facing allegations that he had misused his public office.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), ranking member on the EPW panel, said he hoped that Wheeler would take a different tack from Pruitt when it came to the Trump administration’s deregulatory agenda.

“It brings me no joy to say today he has not done what I would hope he would do in many important respects,” Carper said.

The senator noted EPA’s proposed reworking of the agency’s mercury air toxics limits as well as its rollback of Obama-era fuel efficiency standards for cars.

EPA has butted heads with California, which has tougher clean car rules, while Carper has pushed “a 50-state deal” he says the auto industry wants.

“With respect to fuel efficiency standards and a path forward, they [the auto industry] are united in saying they want a 50-state deal,” Carper said, adding, “I’m very, very frustrated in this regard.”

Carper has pushed for a number of policy concessions from EPA in exchange for speeding up Wheeler’s confirmation, including action on the Kigali Amendment, an international agreement to reduce hydrofluorocarbons; the deadly paint-stripping chemical methylene chloride; and the PFAS class of chemicals.

Wheeler has also run into concern from Republicans over PFAS, which have been linked to widespread water contamination in various states. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) voted on the panel to advance Wheeler’s nomination today and said she met with Wheeler to hear what EPA planned to do about the chemicals.

“I intend to closely track the steps EPA and other agencies are taking to address this public health and environmental health crisis,” Capito said, noting it has affected her state of West Virginia.

Carper also asked the Senate to take its time with Wheeler. “I want us to slow this down just a little bit,” Carper said, noting that Wheeler can remain as acting administrator for 210 days under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.

Republicans pushed back. “I wouldn’t want to hesitate or delay it at all. I think we need to get him on the job and working,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) about Wheeler at this morning’s markup.

Peter Wright

The committee also cleared the nomination of Peter Wright, a former DowDuPonts lawyer, to lead EPA’s solid waste office on a party-line 11-10 vote. The Senate failed to confirm Wright during the last Congress.

Carper said he had negotiated several policy concessions with EPA last year to help speed up Wright’s confirmation. The agency, however, had not made the same commitments this year, so Carper said he would withhold support.

Also, as part of today’s markup, the committee signed off on its own rules package and budget resolution. And it approved the nomination of former Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) to be assistant secretary of Commerce for economic development on a 15-6 vote.

Senators approved on a voice vote the nominations of Nicole Nason to be administrator of the Federal Highway Administration and John Ryder to be a member of the board of directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority, as well as several pieces of legislation, including the following:

  • S. 268, from EPW Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the “Wildlife Innovation and Longevity Driver Act,” to promote wildlife conservation and help with the management of invasive species (E&E Daily, Jan. 31).
  • S. 163, from Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), the “Alaska Remote Generator Reliability and Protection Act” (E&E Daily, Jan. 11).
  • S. 94, from Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), the “Target Practice and Marksmanship Training Support Act.”
  • S. 310, from Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the “Migratory Birds of the Americas Conservation Act.”

After adjourning today’s markup, Barrasso said the Senate may vote on Bill Barr for attorney general first. But he indicated to reporters that it’s possible Wheeler’s nomination to lead EPA could move next.