President Trump’s energy nominees are being left to wait as Senate committees move ahead with a busy week of hearings during the extended August work schedule that does not include any confirmation votes.
A Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee business meeting to move a number of Trump’s energy and interior nominees through the confirmation vote process was postponed after a contentious week of votes on a bill to partially repeal and replace Obamacare.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, chairwoman of the energy committee, has not announced when the votes would be rescheduled. She had said last month that she had planned to use the extended Senate work schedule to move the remainder of Trump’s appointees through the committee process and to the Senate floor.
Her office told the Washington Examiner that Senate scheduling uncertainties had forced the committee to postpone the votes. “We are considering options for rescheduling the business meeting, but have not yet settled on a date or time,” said Nicole Daigle, a spokeswoman for Murkowski and the committee. “Once the chairman has made a decision regarding this business meeting, the committee will issue a public notice.”
Several nominees whom Murkowski already moved through committee are awaiting votes from the full Senate. The nominees include two Republican commissioners to be members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has been forced to shut down for lack of members.
It is up to the Senate leadership to decide when the nominees will be taken up for votes, which doesn’t look likely to happen before September, according to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office.
“I don’t have any guidance,” said David Popp, communications director for McConnell. That has been his answer for the entire month of July, although the Senate did manage to approve the appointment of a senior-level official to the Department of Interior on July 24. David Bernhardt was confirmed 53-43 to be deputy secretary of the Interior despite opposition from Democrats and environmental groups.
Pending votes for Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson to be members of FERC continue to weigh the heaviest for many industry groups who want a quorum restored at the key agency, which is crucial for building energy infrastructure.
“On June 6, 2017, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee advanced the nomination of two individuals for FERC commissioner by a large bipartisan majority of 20 to 3. Rapid confirmation of these nominees would restore a quorum to FERC – absent for the first time in 40 years,” read a letter sent Monday to McConnell by Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council. The group represents some of the largest utilities in the country, including Duke Energy and Southern Co. A copy of the letter was also sent to Democratic Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York.
“The loss of quorum at FERC is critical for the entire economy,” Segal wrote, underscoring that “some $50 billion in private capital is hamstrung for projects slowed or stopped without FERC approval. An additional $25 billion in projects are just beginning the application process,” with as many as 75,000 direct jobs in jeopardy.
“A quorum is critical for the FERC to proceed on a range of vital functions, including approval of new natural gas pipelines and new liquid natural gas terminals,” the letter added.
Meanwhile, the energy committee’s water and power panel will hold a hearing Wednesday on improving “water security” in the West through “infrastructure, management and innovation.” A second hearing on Thursday by the full committee will examine “federal and nonfederal collaboration, including through the use of technology, to reduce wildland fire risk to communities and enhance firefighting safety and effectiveness,” according to committee notices.
On the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which oversees the Environmental Protection Agency, the lack of political appointees is limiting who the committee asks to participate in some of this week’s hearings, according to aides.
For example, the environment committee does not have an EPA official participating at a Tuesday oversight hearing on the Superfund program because there isn’t one to participate, said a spokeswoman for Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., chairman of the committee’s Superfund panel.
There is no one from EPA on the witness list because “there is no appointee yet,” said spokeswoman Natalie Krings in an email. The hearing follows the release of a report last week from a task force that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt established to improve the Superfund cleanup program, which includes a number of sites around the country involving toxic waste and lead contamination removal in urban areas.
The task force is collecting data from regional EPA offices over the next few weeks to create a plan to streamline the program. Krings said Tuesday’s hearing was not a response to the task force recommendations, “but rather an enhancement” and “[a]nother tool to improving the Superfund Program.” She said the hearing was in the works before the report was issued.
The Environment and Public Works Committee will also take up the General Services Administration’s decision not to move FBI headquarters out of downtown Washington on Wednesday, with a hearing aptly titled “FBI Headquarters Consolidation Project – What Happened and What’s Next.”
Committee Chairman Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., “is continuing to exercise the committee’s robust oversight responsibilities with this week’s hearing on the FBI headquarters,” said spokesman Mike Danylak.
Members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission who were approved by Barrasso’s committee this summer are also awaiting votes on the Senate floor.