President Donald Trump sent the names of several controversial candidates back to the Senate — including one nominee a Senate Democrat described as “overwhelmingly unfit for such a crucial position” — as he seeks to fill high-level environmental and science positions in his administration.
The nominees were included in a White House announcement late Monday that it is renominating dozens of people who require Senate approval to fill their government positions. At the end of 2017, the Senate sent back numerous nominees that were unable to get enough support to remain under consideration.
The list includes Kathleen Hartnett White for head of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ); Andrew Wheeler for deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Barry Lee Myers for head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); and Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) for administrator of NASA, one of the nation’s leading scientific agencies.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the Trump administration should expect a fight on White’s renomination.
“This is not just another Trump nominee. In the 17 years I have been in the Senate, I have never sat through a hearing as excruciating as Ms. White’s,” Carper said in a statement Monday. “Even if the administration insists on doubling down on candidates who have proven to be so clearly unacceptable, those of us in the Senate must still be able to recognize when someone is overwhelmingly unfit for such a crucial position.”
White is a senior fellow and director of the Armstrong Center for Energy and the Environment at the fossil-fuel funded Texas Public Policy Foundation and previously served as chair of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
The League of Conservation Voters also was dismayed by Trump’s decision to renominate White, whom the environmental group argued “has no place heading up the White House environmental office.”
During his Senate confirmation hearing for the No. 2 position at the EPA, Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, said he had viewed a plan developed by top coal producer Murray Energy to roll back environmental regulations at the agency and attended meetings on Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s proposal to subsidize coal and nuclear plants. Murray Energy was one of Wheeler’s lobbying clients while working at the law firm Faegre Baker Daniels. Wheeler previously worked on the staff of a top congressional climate science denier, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK).
“As Scott Pruitt’s number two, coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler would only rubberstamp more favors to the administration’s polluter allies at the expense of our clean air and water,” Sara Chieffo, vice president for government affairs at the LCV, said in a statement Monday.
Trump also renominated Barry Lee Myers, the CEO of weather forecasting company AccuWeather, to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). At his November confirmation hearing, Myers admitted to senators that humans are the main cause of climate change, contradicting the statements of the president and several of his cabinet secretaries.
Myers, who has no scientific background, has come under scrutiny for lobbying to privatize public weather information. AccuWeather’s business model is to take NOAA data and products on weather, developed with taxpayer dollars, and deliver them to the public in a proprietary form that customers want. He has been a strong advocate against NOAA having the capability to provide such products directly to the public.
Bridenstine is a politician without any scientific credentials, unlike previous NASA chiefs. His nomination has been criticized by both of Florida’s senators, Marco Rubio (R) and Bill Nelson (D). Rubio said, “I just think [his nomination] could be devastating for the space program.”
In 2013, Bridenstine gave a speech on the House floor filled with standard denier talking points and ended his remarks with a demand that President Barack Obama apologize for funding research into climate science.