Policy

EPA Inhofe Alumni Group Closer to Expanding

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., has seen a number of former staffers head to the EPA. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

President Donald Trump’s nominations for an assistant EPA administrator and two members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission were advanced Wednesday by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Lawmakers on the panel voted, 11-10, to move forward with the nomination of Susan Bodine to become the EPA’s assistant administrator of enforcement and compliance assurance. The Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance enforces EPA’s rules and oversees the agency’s environmental justice and compliance.

No Democrats on the panel voted for Bodine, who has been the committee’s chief counsel since January 2015, as they objected to the lack of response to letters they have sent to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s office.

“Susan has been a collegial partner to my staff, and the agency’s gain will be our committee’s loss,” committee ranking member Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., said in his opening remarks. “However, as I said when her nomination was announced, I am unable to support any nominees to the EPA until Administrator Pruitt responds to the many unanswered letters submitted to him by members of this committee.”

Bodine was named to the committee’s chief counsel position by then-Chairman James M. Inhofe, R-Okla. If confirmed, she would add to a growing number of former Inhofe employees joining the Trump administration.

Bodine came to the committee from the law firm Barnes & Thornburg, where she had been a partner. She was an assistant administrator in the EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response under President George W. Bush and worked on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee as staff director and counsel.

The panel also voted, 15-6, to advance Nuclear Regulatory Commission nominee Annie Caputo, with the support of some Democrats, including Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland.

Caputo has had a long career as a congressional staffer, most recently as senior policy adviser for the committee’s Republicans both under Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and former chairman Inhofe. She has also worked as an executive for Exelon Corp.

David Wright, also tapped for the NRC by Trump, received a vote of 11-10 along party lines. He is a former chairman of South Carolina Public Service Commission and former president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. He now runs his own consulting and communications business .

“They all have proven themselves to be well-qualified, experienced and dedicated public servants,” Barrasso said of the three nominees during his opening statement.

The NRC operates with a five-member commission, usually made up of two members from each party and a chairman selected by the president. Caputo and Wright would join Jeff Baran, a Democrat, independent Stephen Burns and Republican Kristine Svinicki, who was confirmed in June to a third consecutive five-year term.

The commission is expected in the next year to begin consideration of licenses for so-called advanced nuclear reactors that are smaller and more versatile than existing designs, the potential restart of the Yucca Mountain licensing review and regulations concerning the decommissioning of aging reactors.

EPW lawmakers also on Wednesday approved, en bloc, by voice vote a group of bipartisan measures, including Carper’s legislation to reauthorize an EPA program that provides funds for rebuilding or retrofitting old diesel engines with modern emission control devices to comply with federal and state pollution rules.

The Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (S 1447) would extend for five years the program created under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (PL 109-58), authorizing $100 million annually for technology to curb toxic diesel releases. Lawmakers on the panel approved the bill without amendment. The bill was co-sponsored by Barrasso and Inhofe.

Despite the Trump administration’s proposal to cut funding for DERA in the fiscal 2018 budget request, the program has proven popular and lawmakers on the committee have said it is a common-sense approach to curbing toxic diesel emissions and promoting public health, while creating jobs.

According to the EPA, which disburses the funds, older diesel engines emit higher amounts of pollution, including nitrogen oxides, which have been found to be harmful to human health.

“The program is one of the most effective EPA programs, resulting in enormous environmental and public health benefits, while creating jobs here at home,” Carper said in his opening remarks.

The program is voluntary, but the tax rebates and grants act as an enticement for vehicle owners, businesses or school districts to rebuild or retrofit their old diesel engine fleets.

A measure (S 822) that would reauthorize the EPA’s Brownfields Program was also among those approved in the en bloc voice vote. Barrasso said the bill would expand eligibility for brownfield funds — which aid in the reclamation of toxic waste sites for economic development — and make their use more flexible.

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