As Hurricane Florence Moves In, Democrats Are Holding Up Trump’s Pick To Head EPA’s Emergency Response Division

Michael Bastasch | Energy Editor
  • Senate Democrats are holding up the confirmation of EPA’s top emergency response official.
  • Trump nominated Peter Wright for the position in March, but he hasn’t gotten a floor vote yet.
  • Hurricane Florence could flood toxic and hazardous waste sites in the Carolinas.

Senate Democrats are holding up the confirmation vote for President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) emergency management division.

Trump nominated former Dow Chemical attorney Peter Wright to head EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management, which responds to emergency situations, including chemical spills and hurricanes. Hurricane Florence is hitting the Carolinas and is expected to make landfall Thursday night.

Hurricane Florence is expected to dump up to two feet of rain over swaths of North Carolina and South Carolina, and officials have warned residents of “catastrophic flash flooding” amid the downpour.

Flooding could damage hazardous and toxic waste sites in the Florence’s path. Many pig farms, coal ash disposal sites and several Superfund sites could be impacted by torrential rain. EPA officials are monitoring the situation.

However, more than one month after the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) voted to move Wright forward in the confirmation process, the process is being held up by Senate Democratic leadership.

Republicans worry holding up key nominees might inhibit critical government functions, like emergency response. (RELATED: Should People Be Worried About A Nuclear Plant Standing In Hurricane Florence’s Path?)

“Chairman Barrasso feels that these are critical roles that need to be filled and the President needs his team in place,” EPW spokesman Mike Danylak told The Daily Caller News Foundation. Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican, chairs the committee.

EPW voted in favor of Wright’s confirmation on Aug. 1 on a party-line vote. No Democrats on the committee supported Wright’s confirmation.

However, one or more senators can hold up the process, because a floor vote can’t be scheduled without unanimous consent.

No Republican lawmakers have opposed Wright’s confirmation, but Democrats haven’t begun the so-called “hotline” process used to tease out opposition to a nominee, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s office did not respond to TheDCNF’s request for comment regarding opposition to Wright’s confirmation.

However, Democrats, including EPW’s ranking member Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, were angered by news that Wright began serving as “special counsel” to EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler in July.

“To announce that EPA will bring on Mr. Wright and Mr. McIntosh on the day that Administrator Pruitt departs … not only breaks with past norm and precedents, but shows incredibly poor judgment, especially when we should be turning over a new leaf,” Carper said in a statement, The Hill reported.

An agency spokesman said he would not be “performing any duties that are reserved for the position for which [he has] been nominated.” Carper’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Democrats may also be dismayed over a New York Times report from July on how Dow Chemical “was accused by regulators, and in one case a Dow engineer, of submitting disputed data, misrepresenting scientific evidence and delaying cleanup” while Wright served as legal counsel.

Hurricane Florence could flood toxic and hazardous waste sites, called Superfund sites, that EPA oversees. EPA is currently monitoring nine Superfund sites along the Carolina coastline in Florence’s projected path. The agency is coordinating with local officials to prepare for the storm and respond if any states request help.

“In addition, the agency is prepared to assist the states if help is requested, and coordinate with state and federal partners as needed,” EPA spokesman John Konkus told CNN on Wednesday.

When Hurricane Harvey hit in late summer 2017, about 13 hazardous waste sites were flooded or damaged by the torrential rainfall, according to EPA. The agency said aerial surveys of 41 Superfund sites in Texas last year only spotted one that was heavily damaged.

Florence’s path is full of other toxic hazards as well, The New York Times reported, including “thousands of industrial hog farms with lagoons filled with pig waste.”

EPA did not respond to TheDCNF’s request for comment.

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