President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) appeared before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday, giving lawmakers an opportunity to hear first-hand from a nominee whose controversial statements had caused a stir on Capitol Hill and in the environmental community.
The nominee, Kathleen Hartnett White, didn’t disappoint. She remained true to her hard-line stance on carbon dioxide, telling the senators that in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide has none of the characteristics of the types of pollutants that have a “direct impact on human health.” Instead, White told the Senate panel that carbon dioxide is “an atmospheric gas” that serves as a “plant nutrient.”
White has made a career out of questioning the scientific consensus that human activities are the major driver of catastrophic climate change. She has described efforts to combat climate change as primarily an attack on the fossil fuel industry.
During the hearing, she argued that the role played by humans in the rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is “very uncertain.” In a disclaimer similar to those used by climate-denying Republicans on Capitol Hill, White said: “I’m not a scientist, but in my personal capacity, I have many questions that remain unanswered by current climate policy.”
Like Trump and many of his appointees, White also questioned the role that science should play in the nation’s environmental policies. “I think science should overwhelmingly guide assessments and all of that. But I don’t think they dictate policy results,” she told the senators.
White, a senior fellow and director of the Armstrong Center for Energy and the Environment at the fossil-fuel funded Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), is “even more extreme” than the other environmental and energy officials appointed by Trump, surpassing even Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, said Christy Goldfuss, who served as managing director of the CEQ under President Barack Obama.
“Her views are so out of the mainstream, it’s almost as if she falls in kind of a flat earth category,” Goldfuss, who is now vice president of energy and environmental policy at the Center for American Progress, said in a previous interview. (ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed within the Center for American Progress.)
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.
Prior to joining the TPPF, White served as chairman 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. She also has praised vehicle tailpipe pollution, criticized the Clean Air Act, and voted to allow construction of a new coal plant despite pollution concerns.
“Hartnett-White, who has gone so far as to call CO2 the ‘gas of life’ and oversaw the intentional under-reporting of radiation levels in water, has shown a callous disregard for the health of our families throughout her career, will advise the President on how to dismantle key environmental safeguards and put our families at risk,” Matthew Gravatt, the Sierra Club’s associate legislative director, said in a statement Wednesday.
In her career as an environmental regulator and academic, White has shown a “disdain for science” and a “disregard for the laws and regulations already on the books,” Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, said in his opening remarks at the confirmation hearing.
“The nominee to carry on this important work must be someone who can build alliances, work with Congress and be a credible leader. Unfortunately, the nominee before us today, Kathleen Hartnett White, does not, in my opinion, meet this standard,” Carper said.
In her work on the TCEQ and as a fellow at the TPPF, White “has shown that she is not only a science denier, but actively promotes misinformation on climate, ozone, mercury, particulate matter and other known health hazards that impact our air and waterways.” Carper said.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) questioned White on whether she views particulate matter as a national crisis, especially in lower-income communities where children get asthma at much higher rates than in areas without polluting industries. White expressed skepticism that the nation is facing a clean air crisis in disadvantaged communities.
“When the bulk of the country attains the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for fine particulate matter, that that to me is confusing if there is a crisis,” she said in response to Booker.
Kathleen Rest, executive director of the Union Concerned Scientists, said White’s nomination “comes as no big surprise.” In a blog post on Monday, Rest wrote that White “will be just the latest addition to a Trump team determined to slow, stem, stymie, and roll back environmental and public health protections with reckless disregard for the well-being of all Americans.”