Inhofe Statement on CEQs Final Guidance on Considering Climate Change in Environmental Reviews
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, today released a statement after the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued its final guidance on considering climate change in environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act. The final guidance comes amid unresolved questions about whether CEQ staff have the legal authority to continue to operate and act on behalf of CEQ, which has lacked a Senate-confirmed chairman since February 2014.
“Under the Vacancies Reform Act, no person may perform the duties of the vacant CEQ Chairman position until the President has nominated a candidate who is subject to Senate confirmation,” Inhofe said. “With no Senate-confirmed chairman, or even a nominee, today’s guidance can have no force or effect as CEQ staff have no authority to take any official action. Further, even if there were a Senate-confirmed Chairman of CEQ, global climate change falls outside of the scope of NEPA so the guidance has no legal basis.”
On March 25, 2015, EPW republicans submitted comments on CEQ’s draft NEPA greenhouse gas guidance.
On Nov. 20, Inhofe wrote letters to President Obama and Christina Goldfuss, CEQ’s managing director, concerning the management, operations, and activities of CEQ in the absence of a Senate-confirmed Chairman. Under the Vacancies Reform Act, a position requiring confirmation by the Senate may be filled for only 210 days after a vacancy arises and by only certain qualified officials. The previous Senate-confirmed Chairman, Nancy Sutley, resigned in February 2014. The position of CEQ Chairman has been required to remain vacant since September 21, 2014, and under the Vacancies Reform Act no one may perform the duties of the Chairman until the President nominates a replacement. Under current law, CEQ consists of a single Chairman who is subject to Senate confirmation and who shall “exercise[e] all powers, functions, and duties of the Council.” With the ongoing chairman vacancy, it is unclear under what authority lower-level officials have to purportedly operate and act on behalf of CEQ.
In the letter to President Obama, Inhofe explains that, due to the extended absence of a Senate confirmed chairman, CEQ has lacked the legal authority to issue several recent guidance documents on climate change and sustainability among other actions and asks that the president formally withdraw those documents. In a letter to the CEQ managing director, who is purportedly leading the Council during this vacancy period, Inhofe requests 12 categories of documents and information about CEQ’s activities since 2014, including such basic information as copies of internal delegations of authority, operations manuals, travel authorizations and invoices, and position descriptions for certain senior officials. To date, President Obama has not responded to Inhofe’s letter or submitted a nominee to Congress to fill the vacant CEQ Chairman position.
On Dec. 18, Inhofe noted that CEQ has not released requested internal documents about CEQ’s operations and authorities that would demonstrate CEQ is acting in accordance with the law while the chairman position remains vacant.