Inhofe Questions CEQ Official’s Inadequate Response

WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, sent a letter to Christy Goldfuss, the managing director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), concerning the Committee’s outstanding oversight request and ongoing questions about CEQ’s legal authority to continue to operate without a Senate-confirmed chairman.  Goldfuss’ Dec. 14, response did not resolve Inhofe’s questions about CEQ or provide any documents requested by Inhofe. 

As former Chairman Boxer articulated, and former CEQ Chairman [Nancy] Sutley committed, there is an expectation that CEQ officials will cooperate with the EPW Committee’s oversight and provide witnesses and documents as requested.  Your response falls far short of Ms. Sutley’s commitment and my expectation now as Chairman of the EPW Committee.” Inhofe says in the letter.

Inhofe continues, “It is troubling that you are unwilling to provide Congress such basic information about CEQ’s activities, despite President Obama’s commitment to create ‘an unprecedented level of transparency.’ … Indeed, no legal basis has been articulated by the President or you to justify the continued withholding of this information from the EPW Committee.”

The letter adds, “Given the vacancy of the Chairman/Director position, the requested information will also be used to inform Congress whether any lower-level officials may have expended government funds in violation of the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits government officers and employees from making or authorizing the expenditure of government funds without appropriation or authorization.  Employees who violate the Antideficiency Act may be subject to discipline including suspension and removal, as well as criminal penalties.”

“The Obama Administration’s attempt to have CEQ managed and overseen on an indefinite basis by a lower-level official who has not been subject to the advice and consent of the Senate is contrary to CEQ’s legal authorities and the Vacancies Reform Act and falls far short of the President’s constitutional duty to ensure the laws of the United States are faithfully executed,” Inhofe writes in the letter.   



On Nov. 20, Inhofe wrote letters to President Obama and Goldfuss 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 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.  Goldfuss’ December 14 letter does not explain why it is refusing to provide the requested documents and information.

To read the full letter from Inhofe, click here.

To read the full letter from Goldfuss, click here.