In party-line votes, a Senate committee on Wednesday voted to approve three top Trump environmental nominees, allowing their nominations to head to the full Senate for a vote.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved a pair of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nominees with industry backgrounds — Peter Wright and Chad McIntosh — and a Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) nominee — Mary Neumayr — who previously worked for Republican lawmakers and the George W. Bush administration. Each of the votes was 11-10, with all Democrats on the committee rejecting the nominees.
Sen. Thomas Carper, the top Democrat on the committee, explained that a number of committee Democrats voted against the nominees because what they heard from the nominees in private meetings and in their testimony “did not line up with what we read” in responses to questions sent to each nominee.
For example, Neumayr has signaled an intent to consider significant revisions to the way the National Environmental Policy Act operates. “From her answers to questions for the record, it is unclear whether those revisions will prioritize environmental protection, as is the requirement under current law, or if there will be a rigorous public comment process before any changes are made,” Carper said in his comments at the committee meeting.
Carper noted he’s hoping to get clarification from the three nominees. If the responses demonstrate their allegiance to protecting their environment, there’s a good chance many of the Democrats would vote for the nominees when their nominations come to a full Senate vote, he said.
McIntosh, Ford Motor Co.’s former environmental policy chief, was picked to lead the EPA’s international and tribal affairs office. Wright, a former senior attorney at The Dow Chemical Company, now DowDuPont, would lead the office of land and emergency management. The office oversees chemical plant safety rules and administers the federal Superfund program, responsible for cleaning up some of the country’s most contaminated industrial sites.
Trump nominated Neumayr to serve as CEQ chairwoman. Her Senate committee confirmation comes after a lengthy controversy concerning the fringe scientific views of the previous nominee, Kathleen Hartnett White.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) voted against Neumayr, explaining that he was troubled with responses to questions for the record that were sent to her after her confirmation hearing. Whitehouse in comments prior to the committee vote, said he wasn’t sure if Neumayr actually wrote the responses or if “some White House politburo” wrote them for her.
In comments prior to the votes, Carper said Neumayr, in her answers to questions for the record, “refused to support the reinstatement of tools that help American communities become more resilient to extreme weather and climate change.”
“Without extra planning and targeted investments, I know we’ll continue to lose lives, livelihoods and taxpayer dollars,” Carper said. “For these reasons, I will refrain from supporting Ms. Neumayr at this time, although I hope that we can have further discussions to come to some resolutions on these and several other important matters.”
The EPA has already hired Wright and McIntosh as “special counsels” to Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, even though the pair has yet to be confirmed by the Senate and sworn in to fill high-level positions at the agency.
Wheeler is following in the footsteps of former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who also surrounded himself with former officials from regulated industries, including a former consultant to the chemical industry — Michael Dourson — who joined the agency before he had completed the Senate confirmation process. Trump ultimately withdrew Dourson’s name for consideration.
Wright, who worked on Dow’s Superfund cleanup program, has meanwhile agreed to recuse himself from working on any Superfund sites that DowDuPont may be responsible for contaminating for at least two years. For DowDupont sites that he personally worked on, Wright agreed to a permanent recusal.
Dow and DuPont merged in August 2017. Together, they are responsible for the cleanup of nearly 200 Superfund sites.
In comments prior to the vote, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) said confirming Wright to oversee the Superfund program would be “a clear violation of the public trust” because he would “face dozens of conflicts of interest.”