Nominees for two high-ranking environmental positions in the Trump administration declared their support for the Renewable Fuel Standard program at their confirmation hearing in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Wednesday.
Kathleen Hartnett White, nominated as a member of the Council on Environmental Quality, where she is expected to become chairman, rejected previous statements she had made on ethanol and the RFS. As recently as last year, in the book Fueling Freedom: Exposing the Mad War on Energy, she asserted that the ethanol mandate has led to food shortages and rising corn prices.
“Ethanol policy is a prime example of counterproductive, outdated and ethically offensive federal energy policy,” she said in the book.
At the hearing, Hartnett White repudiated those views, saying she did not have up-to-date data. Now, however, thanks to information shared with her by Republican senators Joni Ernst of Iowa and Deb Fischer of Nebraska, “An industry like ethanol has really contributed to giving new life to rural communities and keeping families together,” she said.
The Council on Environmental Quality oversees the federal government’s implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires federal agencies to examine the environmental impacts of their activities. “CEQ also develops and recommends national policies to the President that promote the improvement of environmental quality and meet the nation's goals,” according to the council’s website. The council “also oversees the Office of Federal Sustainability, (which) coordinates and implements policy to promote energy efficiency, sustainability, and environmental stewardship in federal government operations.”
“I do have serious concerns with the numerous factually incorrect statements you’ve made about the RFS,” Fischer told her. “I worry about your lack of understanding about the purpose of the law, which is to provide market access for renewable fuels, and to promote agriculture and to promote rural America. I worry about your extremist views and your role as an adviser to the president. Should you be confirmed, will you echo President Trump’s support for the statute and uphold the congressional intent of the RFS?”
“Yes, I would,” Hartnett White said. And at another point, she said, “All of this data, it’s great news because the ethanol program doesn’t somehow create some problem with meeting global food demand.”
The other nominee, energy lawyer and lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, also said he fully supports the RFS.
“The RFS is the law of the land and I fully support the program,” he said. “The president, from all accounts, fully supports the program.”
Hartnett White also took heat from Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., who told her that ethanol production is up to 15 billion gallons and the price of corn is lower than it was when the program started more than a decade ago.
“God bless productive American agriculture,” Hartnett White said. “There’s a lot of corn supply.”
Hartnett White also answered questions about her skeptical views on climate change. She said she viewed a recent climate assessment released by the Trump administration, which concluded that it is “extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century,” is “the product of the past administration.”
She said there are many differences of opinion among climate scientists and that there need to be more information on the role of humans in causing climate change.
Hartnett White said it’s “likely that CO2 emissions from human activity have some influence on the climate,” but that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere “has none of characteristics of a pollutant that contaminates and fouls and that can have a direct impact on human health. It’s a plant nutrient.”
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