WASHINGTON – A Senate hearing on nominees for two top environmental posts on Wednesday quickly turned testy over the Trump administration’s ambivalence on climate change science.
Andrew Wheeler, a lobbyist for Murray Energy, which is owned by Robert Murray, an Appalachian coal mining magnate and prominent backer of President Donald Trump, has been nominated to be the deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Kathleen Hartnett White, a former Texas environmental regulator who has described belief in global warming as “a kind of paganism,” has been tapped to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Democratic members of the Environment and Public Works Committee focused much of their hostility on White, a fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the former chairwoman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Democrats assailed her past writings on climate change, including articles in which she called carbon dioxide “the gas of life” and described renewable energy as parasitic.
“Your positions are so far out of the mainstream, they are not just outliers, they are outrageous,” said Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass. “You have a fringe voice that denies science, economics and reality.”
Asked if she stood by her previous statements, White replied, “It’s likely that CO2 has some influence on the climate,” but added that carbon dioxide did not have the characteristics of a pollutant that directly affects human health. “It’s a plant nutrient,” she said.
The Trump administration last week issued a comprehensive report on climate science that said the planet was definitely growing warmer and that human activities were the predominant cause. Despite those findings, administration officials and nominees continue to question the validity of climate change science.
Wheeler, a former aide to Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., faced lighter questioning. He declined to pledge to recuse himself from working on lawsuits that Murray Energy has filed against the EPA, saying he would abide by the guidance of the agency’s ethics advisers.
Midwestern Republicans, meanwhile, pressed White on her past criticism of the renewable fuel standard, which requires refiners to blend corn-based ethanol with gasoline. White House officials last month directed the EPA to halt efforts to weaken a federal biofuel mandate after pressure from Iowa politicians and others who threatened to hold up agency nominees.
White said her view had recently changed because she read new data and she now supports the fuel standard.
The Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan group that tracks federal nominations, said 28 key positions at the EPA and Energy and Interior departments that require confirmation lack nominees.