The climate views of Kathleen Hartnett White, a former top Texas environmental official, proved to be too controversial for Washington.
President Donald Trump pulled her nomination Monday to head the Council on Environmental Quality, a White House-based clearinghouse for environmental policy, after it became clear that she faced long odds for Senate confirmation and was creating a logjam for other nominees.
Hartnett White’s primary antagonist was Delaware Sen. Tom Carper, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, who waged a public campaign against her confirmation after her testimony to the committee last year. Democrats were galvanized by her skepticism about the human impact on climate change and her non-responses to questions about the warming of the oceans.
In an unusually aggressive move, Carper last Wednesday told Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt after a public hearing that he could not see moving on Pruitt’s hand-picked nominee to be EPA deputy director and other nominees while Hartnett White’s nomination was still pending. Monday, after Hartnett White’s withdrawal, the panel scheduled a confirmation vote for the EPA deputy director nominee, Andrew Wheeler, for Wednesday.
As the top Democrat on the panel that must confirm nominees for senior environmental positions, Carper wields considerable influence despite being in the minority. Hartnett White was approved by the committee on a party line vote but faced delays in getting a full Senate vote. Carper announced that he would oppose the Senate carrying over Hartnett White’s nomination into 2018 — a routine process for noncontroversial nominations — forcing the administration to re-nominate her in early January.
After her name was sent to the Senate again, Carper said: “This is not just another Trump nominee. In the 17 years I have been in the Senate, I have never sat through a hearing as excruciating as Ms. White’s.” He said that there were Republicans who were concerned about her nomination. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told Politico that watching a clip of Hartnett White testify “raised a lot of issues in my mind.”
Because of the Senate makeup — 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats — and the absence of GOP Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., due to illness, it would take only one Republican voting “no” to defeat a nominee if all Democrats are opposed.
“It was going to be a heavy lift to get her approved in the first place,” said Frank Maisano, an energy expert with Bracewell Policy Resolution Group, an offshoot of the Houston-based law firm Bracewell LLP, because she did not have “mainstream” views. “All the other nominations were being held up by this contentious nominee,” he said.
Carper said in response to Hartnett White’s withdrawal, “My colleagues in Congress know well that I am one of the first to reach across the aisle to find reasonable, principled compromises, but in this case, it was abundantly clear very early on that heading up the Council on Environmental Quality wasn’t the right job for Ms. White.”
Hartnett White headed the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality under Gov. Rick Perry and is a fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank in Austin.
“I want to thank President Trump for his confidence in me and I will continue to champion his policies and leadership on environmental and energy issues of critical importance to making our nation great, prosperous and secure again,” Hartnett White said in a statement Saturday when reports first surfaced that she had withdrawn from consideration for the post. She did not respond to a call from the American-Statesman for comment.
In the statement, Hartnett White said she wanted to withdraw “in the best interest of facilitating confirmation of the president’s nominees throughout his administration, as well the needs of my family and work.”
Environmental groups cheered her exit.
Ana Unruh Cohen, Natural Resources Defense Council director of government affairs, said: “Reality caught up with the nominee. She was an extreme nominee and couldn’t muster the full support of the Republican caucus.”
Sara Chieffo, vice president for government affairs for the League of Conservation Voters, said, “Kathleen Hartnett White is a conspiracy theorist and anti-science extremist who would threaten public health as the White House’s top environmental adviser.”