Kathleen Hartnett White, who had been picked to chair the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), came under fire from senators in both parties for what they characterized as her extremist views and disregard for science. Hundreds of scientists had also signed a letter calling on the administration to dump the nominee, who had been an environmental regulator and policy analyst in Texas.
Hartnett White’s nomination had been in doubt since this past November, when she encountered tough questioning from both Democrats and Republicans during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Democrats called White unqualified to be the government’s top environmental adviser and policy coordinator, citing what they called her poor command of basic climate and environmental science. They also questioned her about controversial remarks she has made in the past. Senator Tom Carper (DE), top Democrat on the panel, cited an interview in which Hartnett White suggested that low-level ozone, an air pollutant, wasn’t harmful unless “you put your mouth over the tailpipe of a car for 8 hours every day.” He also asked about comments she made that likened acceptance of climate change science to a “kind of paganism” and suggested that top United Nations climate policy advocates were effectively supporting communism. “Her tone, her words and her actions are simply unacceptable,” Carper said, accusing Hartnett White of having a “disdain for science” and “staggering disrespect for people who have views with whom she disagrees.”
The nominee also drew criticism from some farm-state Republicans, who raised concerns about her ability to offer evidence-based policy advice. In particular, they pointed to what they said was her shoddily reasoned argument for repealing federal standards that require blending a certain proportion of renewable fuels into transportation fuels. Hartnett White had called the standards “unethical,” and argued in a 2014 policy paper that U.S. ethanol policy had recently caused food riots abroad. Senator Deb Fischer (R–NE) noted that White later admitted that she had used flawed data in the paper. “I worry about your extremist views in your role as adviser to the president,” Fischer said.
CEQ is a small office within the White House that was created in the 1970s to coordinate environmental policies across federal agencies. Its influence has varied from administration to administration, but Hartnett White’s critics feared she would use the council to help undermine long-standing environmental laws.
With reporting by Puneet Kollipara.