Senate Republicans used a confirmation hearing for two high-level nominees to express strong concerns Wednesday about the Biden administration’s environmental agenda, which prioritizes climate change and environmental justice.

The two nominees — Brenda Mallory to be chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Janet McCabe to be deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency — heard that Republicans are worried about overregulation and that the fossil fuel industry and the jobs it supplies will be left behind as the Biden administration moves to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

Mallory is the director of regulatory policy for the Southern Environmental Law Center and former general counsel at CEQ during the Obama administration. McCabe, director of the Environmental Resilience Institute at Indiana University, was EPA’s acting assistant administrator of the Office of Air and Radiation during the Obama administration.

But despite some pointed questioning from the GOP members of the Environment and Public Works Committee, none indicated they would vote against the nominees. 

EPW Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., said Mallory and McCabe "have the expertise, commitment, and integrity that we need to help lead our nation’s environmental efforts and meet this moment.”

“These two nominees certainly have a wealth of experience,” the committee's ranking member, Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., said in kicking off the hearing. She praised EPA Administrator nominee Michael Regan, who received the committee’s endorsement, 14-6, last month. He has yet to be confirmed by the full Senate.

Regan “is the type of person I would like to see leading a federal agency,” Capito said, noting his “desire to work in a bipartisan manner.” However, apparently referring to McCarthy and U.S Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, she said, “The agenda had already been set by unconfirmed officials in the Biden Administration before Mr. Regan even had his hearing.”  And that agenda, she said, “is clearly shaping up to be a repeat of the Obama administration’s regulatory agenda that devastated my state of West Virginia.”

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Capito observed that Mallory’s current employer “has challenged many critical Trump reforms I support – from the Navigable Waters Protection Rule to NEPA reform to Clean Water Section 401 reforms, and other things needed to push pipeline development forward.”

Also in her opening statement, Capito noted McCabe had called the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which set limits on carbon pollution from U.S. power plants, her “greatest accomplishment” at EPA. The Clean Power Plan, which Capito opposed, was blocked by the Supreme Court and never became law.

“I know how frustrating this issue is for you,” McCabe told Capito. As Regan did, she pledged to go to West Virginia to hear from workers and local officials. Mallory made the same promise,.

Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., told McCabe she has “a lot to answer for” on the CPP, whose development suffered from “a lack of transparency in stakeholder interaction.”

McCabe said that she is “absolutely sincere in my commitment to involve everybody” in regulatory decisions. “We certainly did that in the lengthy process we went through on the Clean Power Plan.”

Carper said the CPP had received more than 4 million comments, and McCabe said EPA had responded to “every substantive comment.”

Cramer, citing Biden’s cancellation of the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, asked Mallory whether she has ever supported any pipeline project; Mallory said when she was in in private practice, “I worked with pipelines and helped pipelines get approved.”

Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst questioned Mallory about a Biden executive order revoking a previous Trump executive order that required federal agencies “to process environmental reviews and authorization decisions for ‘major infrastructure projects’ as One Federal Decision (OFD),” as described by the Transportation Department.

Mallory, however, said despite the revocation of the OFD order, which also set a goal of two years to complete federal environmental reviews of major projects, “I don’t think the issue is off the table.” Biden’s order says OMB and CEQ must consider whether to issue a replacement order.

“I do think we need to find a way to speed the process,” Ernst said.

The Iowa senator also touted the results of a new Harvard study showing greenhouse gas emissions from corn ethanol are 46% lower than gasoline, which got a shout-out on Twitter from the Renewable Fuels Association.

Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan said Biden executive orders pausing oil and gas leasing on federal lands and revoking the Keystone XL permit, among others, threaten jobs in his state. He said increases in life expectancy for Native Alaskans in his state could be reversed because of job losses.

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