Inhofe Calls Out Lack of Management at White House CEQ

WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, sent two letters to the Obama administration today questioning the legal authority for the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ or Council) to continue to operate without a Senate confirmed chairman. 

In a 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.

In the letter to President Obama, Inhofe said, "Your reliance on lower-level staff to function as the Council indefinitely, without any apparent intention to nominate a Chairman, is contrary to your constitutional duty to ensure that the Vacancies Reform Act and NEPA are faithfully executed.  The result of this failure is the fact that CEQ is no longer a lawfully functioning government agency and any actions purporting to have been taken on behalf of the Council during this vacancy period are ultra vires."

In the letter to the CEQ managing director, Inhofe said, "[The recent] change to CEQ’s order of succession does not confer special status for the Managing Director position to operate the Council or to act on its behalf while the Chairman position is vacant.  It does not change the fact that, given the President’s failure to nominate a Chairman within the time frame set forth in the Vacancies Reform Act, as a matter of law, the position of CEQ Chairman must remain vacant and no one may perform those duties until the President formally nominates a replacement and an eligible person is found to serve as the acting officer."

The letter to the CEQ managing director seeks, among other topic, copies of:

  • Documents concerning the approval and concurrence of the Final Guidance for Effective Use of Programmatic NEPA Reviews and the Revised Draft Guidance for Federal Departments and Agencies on Consideration of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and the Effects of Climate Change in NEPA Reviews, among other documents;
  • Internal operations manuals and delegations of authority;
  • Legal memoranda concerning the authority of the managing director and other officials to lead CEQ during a vacancy period;
  • Calendar entries and other documents concerning CEQ’s involvement in the upcoming international climate negotiations.



Established as part of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), CEQ was originally envisioned by Congress to consist of three-Senate confirmed members, one of whom was to be designated as chairman by the president.  In recent years, Congress has allowed CEQ to operate with a single Senate confirmed member serving as chairman.  Generally under the Vacancies Reform Act, positions requiring Senate confirmation such as the CEQ chairmanship may be filled only for 210 days by a qualified acting official after a vacancy arises, unless the president nominates a replacement. After the 210-period expires, the position must remain vacant and no one may perform the duties and functions reserved for the vacant office.  CEQ has been without a Senate confirmed chairman since February 2014, and the Obama administration failed to notify the Government Accountability Office of the vacancy until March 2015 in violation of the Vacancies Reform Act.  The chairman position has legally been required to be held vacant since September 2014, pending a nomination by the president.  CEQ is currently operated under the direction of a managing director, but it is unclear under what authority CEQ or the managing director are operating.

To read the letter to President Obama, click here.

To read the letter to the CEQ managing director, click here.