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2013 Year End Review: The Hearings That Didn't Happen
December 13, 2013

In 2013, U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) canceled a number of hearings that were crucial to the oversight work of the Committee. Below is a timeline and summation of each hearing that did not happen and what has not been accomplished.

Refusing Federal Witnesses for Climate Change Oversight

In June, the President announced a Climate Action Plan (CAP) in which he committed to a "coordinated assault on a changing climate." In his speech, he highlighted a mere fraction of the federal actions being taken unilaterally by his Administration to address climate change.

Oversight of the President's CAP falls under the jurisdiction of this Committee and is crucial, as it has every area of the federal government working towards its goal of justifying a carbon-constrained economy. Many of these sweeping new Agency actions have not come under appropriate scrutiny by EPW, including the Social Cost of Carbon and the New Source Performance Standards.

Chairman Boxer repeatedly promised to have EPA officials appear before the Committee to testify on the Obama Administration's policies. However, the July 18 hearing, the only climate-related hearing held by this Committee this year, excluded any federal witnesses.

Prior to this hearing, Sen. Vitter and EPW Republicans sent separate letters to both Senator Boxer and President Obama, echoing the same message: don't exclude federal witnesses who would be able to explain CAP.

Since then, Chairman Boxer has not scheduled or held a hearing on climate change that includes federal witnesses.

Click here to read the EPW Republican Staff Report "Critical Thinking on Climate Change: Questions to Consider Before Taking Regulatory Action and Implementing Economic Policies."

Turning a Blind Eye on EPA's FY 2014 Budget

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) submitted its FY14 budget proposal to Congress on April 10, 2013. It is a basic oversight function of the EPW Committee to hold a budget hearing, but Chairman Boxer failed to fulfill her duties. Nearly every Congressional committee of jurisdiction already held their respective hearings on EPA's 2014 Budget.

On May 15, 2013, the EPA budget hearing was originally scheduled. It was later delayed to June 5 and was canceled in the days before. Chairman Boxer argued that she did not want to hold a budget hearing until after Gina McCarthy was confirmed as the new EPA Administrator.

In the months since Administrator McCarthy's confirmation, Chairman Boxer has still not scheduled or held a budget hearing. On September 24, the EPW Republicans urged Chairman Boxer in a letter to set a date in light of the recent fraud at EPA, in which a former senior official stole nearly $900,000.

This is the first year during Chairman Boxer's tenure with the Committee that she has not held a full committee EPA budget hearing.

Earlier this year, EPW Republican staff released a report entitled, "A Call for Sunshine: EPA's FOIA and Federal Records Failures Uncovered," detailing EPA's actions under the Obama Administration that reveals multiple attempts to hinder the American public's access to transparency within the agency, which only furthers the need for Congressional oversight.

Nuking Oversight of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission

On November 21, 2013, the EPW Committee was scheduled to hold a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) Oversight hearing focused on the implementation of the Fukushima Near-Term Task Force Recommendations.

Earlier this year, Chairman Boxer focused her efforts in demanding that NRC Chairman Allisson MacFarlane turn over an estimated 70,000 documents related to the San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station in California before she would allow MacFarlane's nomination to be released from the Committee. Days before the nomination deadline, once Chairman Boxer received the documents, she quickly pushed through a vote.

Ironically, Chairman Boxer canceled the November hearing after it had already started so she could cast a vote in favor of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's "nuclear option" to limit the Senate's filibuster rules during the nomination process.

As of today, the NRC oversight hearing has not been rescheduled.

Ignoring Fraud and Mismanagement within the EPA

From the moment EPW Republican staff was made aware of the fraud committed by former senior EPA official, John C. Beale, Sen. Vitter has made it a priority to pursue a thorough investigation of the circumstances at EPA, which allowed Beale to commit his fraud for so many years. Beale pled guilty to criminal charges for stealing nearly $900,000 of taxpayer funds. During the course of the EPA Office of Inspector General investigation, requested by Sen. Vitter, Beale's fraudulent activities were found to include falsely claiming to be a CIA agent and having illnesses to justify premium seats on flights and handicapped parking.

Beale's ability to defraud the Agency for over 20 years, combined with the absurdity of his claims, demonstrates serious problems with EPA's ability to implement sound hiring practices, to track its employees time and attendance, to limit travel expenses to only those that are necessary and reasonable, and to ensure that employees are taking home only the dollars that they earn. As such, Sen. Vitter has requested Chairwoman Boxer hold hearings on the matter.

Despite several requests for a hearing on the Beale case, Chairman Boxer opted to schedule a narrow briefing - not a hearing - with EPA's IG that was limited to the IG's preliminary investigation of Beale on September 30, 2013. At the briefing, Chairman Boxer assured Sen. Vitter that she received his letter and said she was committed to having a full Committee hearing with EPA witnesses, including former EPA officials that worked with Beale.

Nearly four months after Beale's fraud was exposed, the Committee has failed to fulfill its proper oversight authority and hold a hearing.

EPW Republicans will be sending out additional documents recapping the committee's work during 2013 on various issues. Stay tuned for more in the coming days and weeks.

 

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