Kathleen Hartnett White Now a Senate Vote Away from Shaping Federal Environmental Policy

Democrats on the committee blasted her for her past comments on climate change and renewables and said she was “completely unqualified” for the position.

Kathleen Hartnett White at a November 8 U.S. Senate confirmation hearing.
Kathleen Hartnett White at a November 8 U.S. Senate confirmation hearing. www.epw.senate.gov

A U.S. Senate committee voted along party lines Wednesday to advance Kathleen Hartnett White’s nomination to the Council on Environmental Quality to the full Senate, putting her one step away from coordinating environmental policy for the Trump administration.

White’s nomination was opposed unanimously by Democrats on the Environment and Public Works committee, who said she’s “completely unqualified,” has “outrageous” views and is “so far beyond the fringe of climate deniers.” More than 300 scientists also wrote to the Senate this week opposing her nomination “because one thing more dangerous than climate change is lying.”

White, who led the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality between 2003 and 2007, has called wind and solar energy a “false hope” and claimed that coal ended slavery. She has repeatedly stated that carbon dioxide “is not a pollutant” and has taken positions on smog, particulate matter and climate change that are in contradiction with the scientific consensus.

“Approving this nominee for [the Council on Environmental Quality] would be so preposterous that it would be like appointing Caligula’s horse, in that the real question becomes about the power of our fossil fuel emperors and the spine of the Senate,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, before the vote.

At her confirmation hearing last month, White drew criticism from Republicans on the committee for her stance on the Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires that ethanol and other biofuels be blended into fuel. The standard has bipartisan support from legislators in the Midwest, where many farmers depend on the demand for biofuels to sell soybean, corn and other crops. In the past, White has called for the repeal of the program, calling it “counterproductive and ethically dubious.” All 11 Republicans, including Deb Fischer, of Nebraska, and Joni Ernst, of Iowa — who were the most outspoken critics at last month’s hearing — voted Wednesday to advance her confirmation to the Senate.

It’s unclear when her nomination will be considered by the full Senate. Former Texas comptroller Susan Combs, who has been nominated to the Department of Interior, has been waiting for more than 140 days to be confirmed. Obama’s pick for the same post was confirmed in 28 days.

During the Wednesday committee vote, ranking member Senator Tom Carper, D-Delaware, expressed his frustration with EPA administrator Scott Pruitt for failing to respond to questions from Democratic lawmakers. Democrats on the Senate environment committee have sent Pruitt 31 letters and received adequate responses to just 12, he said.

“If the responses that are being crafted by EPA now are completed in short order and are truly responsive, we’ll make progress on a number of nominations,” Carper said. “If the responses are further delayed that progress may not be realized.”

Naveena Sadasivam is a staff writer covering energy and the environment at the Observer. She is currently an Ida B. Wells fellow at The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her work on Twitter.

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