Statement of Senator James Jeffords, I-Vt.
Ranking Member, Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Hearing on FHWA, EPA Nominations
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I want to thank all of our nominees here this morning for their commitment to public service. I want to welcome our first nominee, Richard Capka, to head the Federal Highway Administration. I look forward to hearing from Mr. Capka about the implementation of SAFETEA and his views on how we will finance the Federal surface transportation program in the years to come. Welcome, James Gulliford, the nominee to head the Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances. This office has not had a political appointee in charge since Governor Whitman left the EPA in 2003. During this time, the Center for Disease Control uncovered widespread human exposure to untested industrial chemicals. Several studies confirm that even newborn babies are exposed to hundreds of man-made chemicals, many of which have been linked to cancer and neuro-developmental disorders. The Government Accountability Office revealed that the EPA has required testing for fewer than 200 of the 62,000 chemicals in commerce since 1979, and only five chemicals have been regulated. In addition, the GAO found the Agency "lacks sufficient data to ensure that potential health and environmental risks of new chemicals are identified." Faced with these challenges, the Bush Administration is proposing to cut funding for these critical functions and to weaken the Community-Right-To-Know “Toxic Release Inventory Program.” Mr. Gulliford, I look forward to hearing your plans to overcome these hurdles if you are confirmed. Our third nominee is William Wehrum, named to be the Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation at the Environmental Protection Agency. Quite frankly, I am troubled by this nomination, given that Mr. Wehrum has served as a top political appointee in this office since 2001. During his tenure, we have witnessed this Administration’s repeated assaults on our nation’s environmental protection laws, especially the Clean Air Act. In 1990, Congress and the first President Bush agreed on far-reaching changes to the Clean Air Act to improve the health of every single American. As a member of this committee, I sat through days of meetings in this building and over in Majority Leader Mitchell's office as we developed this delicate compromise. Throughout the 1990s, then-Presidents Bush and Clinton moved to fully implement these important air-pollution reduction measures. But in the past five years, this Administration has systematically dismantled these protections. During this time, big energy companies have had complete access to the decision-makers at the top levels of the Bush Administration and the EPA. We see reports in the national press that Mr. Wehrum and his predecessor, Mr. Holmstead, have crafted rules based on input from their former colleagues in industry rather than the advice of EPA career staff. At the industry’s request, rules and regulations have been put forth that allow the dirtiest power plants to increase their electricity production without installing the required modern pollution controls. The result: more mercury in our environment causing learning disabilities in children; greater soot and ozone causing lung and respiratory illness in children and seniors; more haze and acid rain destroying our forests. Polluters win, public health loses. This is a most disturbing trend, and one that I can only assume that Mr. Wehrum has had an active role in promoting during his tenure with the EPA. A report issued by the EPA Inspector General suggests that the outcome in the EPA’s mercury rule was pre-determined by “senior management,” and analyses promised to a federal advisory committee were abruptly canceled by Mr. Wehrum and his predecessor. Another report by the EPA Inspector General forces us to conclude that neither Mr. Wehrum nor his predecessor has been completely candid about the effect of the EPA’s proposed New Source Review rules on ongoing enforcement actions. Mr. Chairman, you and I have worked together on the Committee for many years and we have confirmed many qualified nominees from all ends of the political spectrum. While I have not always agreed with the views of candidates, I believe the President should be able to choose his own people to carry out his policies, and I have always voted in this committee to confirm nominees. Having said that, I also believe the Constitution imposes an obligation upon this body, and this Committee, to carefully scrutinize nominees and not simply rubberstamp those who come before us for positions of the public trust. The person who accepts this role will be the steward of our nation’s air quality. We ask that he serve as our conscience on air pollution, and we ask that his conduct and his decision-making process be above reproach, both in terms of its scientific basis and its transparency to the public. I have concerns about whether the five-year public record put forth by this nominee and this Administration upholds these standards. I hope that during our question-and-answer period, Mr. Wehrum can convince me that these concerns are unfounded.