WASHINGTON - Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held the “Hearing on the Nominations of Kristine Svinicki (Reappointment), Annie Caputo and David Wright to be Members of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Nomination of Susan Bodine to be Assistant Administrator of the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.” Below is the opening statement of Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, as prepared for delivery:
“Let me begin by welcoming each of our four witnesses to today’s hearing. Thank you for your past public service and for your continued willingness to serve. The jobs to which you have been nominated are very important to the health and safety of the American people.
“Mr. Chairman, as we have discussed, I am concerned that we do not have parity in Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) nominees before us today. It is critical for the Commission to have consistent leadership from both political parties, especially as the industry faces an uncertain future. I hope we can find a path to ensure that the White House re-nominates Commissioner Jeff Baran, and that the Committee pairs consideration of his nomination with some or all of the NRC nominees before us.
“Having said that, Mr. Chairman, the minority members of this committee remain deeply disappointed that the Committee has not received complete written responses from Administrator Pruitt to eleven oversight letters that Democratic Members have sent the EPA. In fact, we have recently learned that the White House has instructed federal agencies not to respond at all to oversight requests from Senators who are not Chairman. Such a directive harms both parties, and takes us further from the truth.
“And you don’t have to take my word for it either. Our colleague, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, sent a letter to President Trump just this past Friday, admonishing the directive, noting, ‘It harms not just the Members who happen to be in the minority party at the moment, but also, Members in the majority party who are not currently Chairmen. It obstructs what ought to be the natural flow of information between agencies and the committees, which frustrates the Constitutional function of legislating.’ I am sure that my colleagues on both sides of this dais can agree that preventing Senators from performing their oversight responsibilities is simply unacceptable. In fact, this Committee has a tradition of ensuring that oversight requests receive responses as part of the confirmation process. I’d like to share two short examples.
“First, in 2013, Republicans insisted on responses to five requests as part of former Administrator Gina McCarthy’s confirmation process. The Republican minority sought information on the agency’s compliance with the Freedom of Information Act, the availability of outside scientific research, the use of economic analysis, and lawsuit settlements.
“Republican Members of EPW boycotted the first business meeting on Administrator McCarthy’s nomination because they believed that the EPA had not been responsive to their requests. On that day, Mr. Chairman, you noted that, and I quote, ‘The new nominee to be EPA Administrator has been extremely unresponsive with the information we requested.’ You went on to say, ‘We're simply requesting that Ms. McCarthy and this Administration honor its commitment to transparency – that's what they promised.’
“In order to help obtain this information, I personally called the EPA and implored the agency to respond to Senator Vitter and to the Republicans on this Committee. Ultimately, EPA did so. By the time the McCarthy nomination reached the Senate floor, EPA had sent at least five letters and provided more than 1,300 pages of documents and data. In the end, after 136 days, Gina McCarthy was confirmed without a filibuster.
“Second, in 2009, Republican requests for information and economic analysis delayed Senate floor consideration of Bob Perciasepe’s nomination to be Deputy EPA Administrator for almost six months.
Last Congress, I’m told that Republicans sent at least 156 oversight letters to EPA’s Air Office alone, and that all of them received responses. Additionally, in calendar year 2015, EPA received 884 letters from lawmakers seeking a response from the agency. That same year, EPA received 60 document requests from Congress and one subpoena. The agency also made EPA officials available to testify at 40 hearings. And in 2015 alone, with all of those incoming requests, EPA, under Gina McCarthy’s leadership, sent 276,510 pages of documents to Congress. One more time – 276,510 pages.
“Colleagues, while our asks may not be welcomed by this administration, they are not unreasonable, nor are they unprecedented. Oversight should not be a partisan issue. As Senator Inhofe and then-Chairman Inhofe noted in 2015, lack of timely and complete responses from agencies ‘frustrate[s] Congress’ ability to fulfill its constitutional duty to perform oversight of the Executive Branch…’ You were right then, and you are right today.
“Absent a heartfelt commitment by EPA to provide complete and timely responses to our current information requests, I will find it very difficult to support moving forward with the consideration of any EPA nominees. I do not make such a statement lightly or with any sense of joy, but the nominations we are discussing today are important ones. They deserve our attention, just as our inquiries deserve the attention of this administration.
“The EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance is an indispensable ‘cop on the beat,’ safeguarding the public’s health and our country’s environment. The office’s actions drive reductions in toxic air pollution as well as the clean-up of our land and our waterways. Last year, EPA’s enforcement work required companies to invest $13.7 billion dollars in such actions.
“Turning to the NRC, following the lead of former Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, Mr. Chairman, you and I have worked to strengthen the "culture of safety" within the U.S. nuclear energy industry. In part due to our collective efforts, and to the NRC leadership and the Commission’s dedicated staff, the NRC continues to be the world’s gold standard for nuclear regulatory agencies. However, that does not mean we can become complacent when it comes to nuclear safety and our NRC oversight responsibilities, a perspective that I’m certain is shared by every member of this Committee.
“In closing, I look forward to hearing how each of the nominees before us today will fulfill the responsibilities of the positions to which they are nominated. I hope they will share with the Committee their commitment to ensure that these agencies remain vigilant and devoted to the protection of all Americans. Again, let me thank each of our witnesses for joining us today and for your willingness to serve your country in these important positions of trust.”