Senate Hearing On Andrew Wheeler to be Permanent EPA Administrator

Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler testified today before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee as the Senate begins considering whether he should be confirmed as the permanent administrator as President Trump has requested.  Once a few protestors were cleared from the room, the Committee got down to business, asking questions of Mr. Wheeler and frequently expressing their own views on matters they felt were significant.  The current government shutdown was often mentioned by Democrats, with some wondering why the nominee for Administrator was before the Committee when most of the Agency’s employees were on furlough, with some even called back to help the Acting Administrator prepare his testimony.   Climate change and related issues like the rollbacks for the Clean Power Plan and CAFE standards were a major point of contention for the Democrats on the Committee.  Wheeler did express more concern about climate change than is normally attributed to the President, but maintained that EPA’s proposals followed the law and in some cases were even better than the previous rules at controlling CO2.  He pointed to EPA’s emphasis on adaption to sea level rise rather than any specific actions on CO2 reduction.  For Republicans, Mr. Wheeler’s qualifications were of prime importance. They cited his 20 years service, first as an EPA career employee, and then as staff director for their Committee.  They also allowed him to state that his often maligned time as a coal company lobbyist was to work on miner health and pension issues.

While these issues dominated the conversation, some issues related to drinking water were raised. Wheeler, in his opening remarks, checked off many EPA accomplishments, including work on PFAS with the National Leadership Summitt and listening sessions, as well as the pending action plan (coming “soon”). He also mentioned EPA’s lead activities such as the Lead Action Plan, the upcoming revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule, and SRF use for lead service line replacement.  Under questioning about PFAS activities, Mr. Wheeler revealed that the action plan for PFAS was originally expected to be released next week but will be delayed by the shutdown.  Because it is still being reviewed, he declined to share specifics or commit to establishing an MCL for PFAS within 2 years.  The Acting Administrator did say the plan would take a multimedia approach and address PFAS under a number of statutes.  Some of the questioning related to EPA’s enforcement record.  Mr. Wheeler proposed that enforcement case numbers were not the best measure of success and that compliance assurance was often a better approach – one that EPA is stressing.  In a response to Senator Cardin (D-MD), Mr. Wheeler agreed to stand up the new grant program for lead service line replacement as soon as possible.  Both the Senator and the Acting Administrator commented on the need for more funding to fully implement all the new requirements in America’s Water Infrastructure Act (AWIA).

No vote was taken today.  Written questions from the Committee members can still be submitted until the end of the week with a response expected by January 25.  In early February, it is expected that the committee, and eventually the full Senate, will confirm Mr. Wheeler, with voting mostly along party lines.  With the shutdown currently blocking almost everything on the Hill, the final confirmation timeline is uncertain.

A recording of the hearing and Wheeler’s opening statement are available here.