Senator pledges to force Trump to re-nominate his ‘extreme’ choice to head environmental office

Kathleen Hartnett White may follow path of Trump's doomed nominee to head EPA's chemical safety office.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), right, opposes the nomination of Kathleen Hartnett White to chair the Council on Environmental Quality. CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Walsh
Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), right, opposes the nomination of Kathleen Hartnett White to chair the Council on Environmental Quality. CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Walsh

The Senate traditionally allows pending White House nominees to be voted on when Congress re-convenes in a new year. But President Donald Trump’s choice to head the influential White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) has proven so controversial that a senator has pledged to force the president to re-nominate the candidate if he wants her to be reconsidered in 2018.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, intends to object to any unanimous consent agreement that would allow the nomination of Kathleen Hartnett White to serve as chair of the CEQ to be held over into the second session of the 115th Congress.

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“Throughout her nomination process, Kathleen Hartnett White has confirmed what her record clearly shows: her views are extreme, her words are staggeringly inappropriate and her disrespect for science and our nation’s chief environmental laws is a danger to public health,” Carper said Tuesday in a statement.

Carper also accused White of copying and pasting the work of other Trump nominees when given the chance to clarify comments she made last month at her confirmation hearing. In other responses to the follow-up questions, the nominee chose to “double down” on some of her most “concerning stances,” the senator added.

Carper’s announcement came one week after he and nine other Senate Democrats wrote a letter to White highlighting at least 18 instances where her responses to follow-up questions matched word for word written testimony given during the nomination process for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and William Wehrum, EPA assistant administrator for air and radiation.

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White works as a senior fellow and director of the Armstrong Center for Energy and the Environment at the fossil-fuel funded Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF). Prior to joining the TPPF, White served as chair and commissioner of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and member of the Texas Water Development Board. She oversaw the TCEQ practice of intentionally under-reporting levels of radiation in water and allowed at least 35 violations to go unreported, according to the Sierra Club.

The CEQ, formed in 1970, coordinates environmental policy at the White House and plays a central role in the implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires an assessment of the environmental impacts of many proposed federal actions before they are undertaken.

White will struggle to gain any support from any Senate Democrats, given her extreme positions on climate science and environmental regulation. The question is whether her nomination will run into resistance among Republicans. Michael Dourson, Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, withdrew his name from consideration late week, after key Republican senators made it clear he could not win confirmation.

There are signs that at least one Republicans is wavering in her support for White. According to Politico, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) viewed a video clip of White’s confirmation hearing that “raised a lot of issues in my mind.” But Collins told Politico that she has not examined White’s record in-depth.

White has written that global warming “is a creed, a faith, a dogma that has little to do with science.” She has touted the supposed benefits of pollution, calling carbon dioxide “the gas of life” and “lacking any characteristics of a pollutant.”

“CEQ must have a leader who will commit themselves to the environmental goals that Congress agreed upon and laid out,” Nancy Sutley, who served as chair of the CEQ under President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2014, wrote in a op-ed published earlier this month in HuffPost. “Without that commitment, Kathleen Hartnett White is the wrong choice for the job and the Senate should not confirm her to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality.”

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In his Tuesday statement, Carper explained that at the close of the first year of a congress, Senate rules require that all unconfirmed nominations pending before the Senate be sent back to the White House. The president may re-nominate any of these individuals once the next Senate session begins.

Traditionally, the Senate agrees to a unanimous consent request that allows any number of pending nominees to be held over into the next session so consideration may continue without re-nomination. But Carper’s objection would send White’s nomination, which was opposed by every Democratic member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, back to Trump.

The president could re-nominate White. However, Carper said he would prefer to give the White House an opportunity to nominate a “better-qualified candidate” for the position.