Democrats question EPA nominee’s hearing prep during shutdown


Andrew Wheeler

Four members of the Environment and Public Works Committee say they are concerned that EPA employees who should not be working have been tasked with helping Andrew Wheeler before his confirmation hearing. | Win McNamee/Getty Images

Senate Democrats want to know how Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler can prepare for his confirmation hearing next week while his agency is unfunded.

In a letter today, four members of the Environment and Public Works Committee say they are concerned that EPA employees who should not be working have been tasked with helping Wheeler, including political appointees and career staff. Non-essential EPA employees have been furloughed since Dec. 29 and will not return until the partial government shutdown is resolved.

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“It is difficult to understand how preparing you for next week’s confirmation hearing credibly falls within any of the categories listed in EPA’s Contingency plan, particularly the category of employee that is necessary to protect life and property,'” EPW ranking member Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) wrote in a letter to Wheeler released today.

EPA says it has “excepted a limited number of employees” who are authorized to help Wheeler prepare for the hearing, which is scheduled for next Wednesday.

“Participation in and preparation for a confirmation hearing that has been scheduled by Congress is clearly excepted under Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel, opinions,” Matt Leopold, EPA’s general counsel, said in a statement. “Additionally, the Constitutional appointment power allows for EPA to take the steps necessary to ensure the Acting Administrator is prepared for his hearing. We coordinate closely on all shutdown activities with the Office of Management and Budget.”

The Senate Democrats’ letter asks EPA to name every employee that it’s contingency plan says will be needed for critical operations, as well as detail emails and meetings that relate to Wheeler’s nomination and confirmation. The Democrats say that making furlough employees work without authorization would violate the Antideficiency Act.

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