Confirmation hearings are often just stagecraft, but sometimes they're really interesting too.
Yesterday's Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing was in the latter bucket as the panel grilled Kathleen Hartnett White, for heading the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and Andrew Wheeler, for becoming EPA's deputy administrator.
A few takeaways...
Ethanol is very, very important politically. Hartnett White, in the face of questioning from farm state Republicans, repeatedly backed off her past criticisms of biofuels and the federal Renewable Fuel Standard.
- It was the main subject of questioning from pro-ethanol GOP Sens. Deb Fischer, Joni Ernst and Mike Rounds, who would have the power to thwart her nomination.
The big climate science report is in the political bloodstream. Multiple Democrats used last Friday's multi-agency report, which found overwhelming evidence of human-caused climate change, as the basis for pointed questions.
Yes, but: Hartnett White, while softening some of her past statements on climate change, did not back off from her disagreement with the scientific consensus that human activities have been the dominant cause of warming since the mid-20th century.
- She called the extent of the human contribution to global warming "very uncertain" and said there's a need for a "more precise explanation of the human role and the natural role."
No comparison: Right now, attacking biofuels is much more politically treacherous than holding views about climate science that are far outside the mainstream.
Grid battle tidbit: Wheeler disclosed that when he was still serving as a lobbyist for the coal company Murray Energy months ago, he attended one meeting at DOE and one on Capitol Hill about what became the DOE push for new power market rules boosting compensation for coal and nuclear plants.
- Utility Dive has more on that here.