This commentary was originally featured in The Hill on November 28, 2017.
One thing is very clear about Kathleen Hartnett White, President Trump’s nominee to chair the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality: She’s eminently qualified for the position, having chaired the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality under then-Gov. Rick Perry.
As the executive vice president of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, I have the privilege of working with Kathleen, who serves as the director of the Armstrong Center for Energy and the Environment at the foundation.
White’s critics may not like her political positions, but they cannot say she’s less qualified than others who have held that job. Indeed, she is every bit as qualified — and accomplished — as anyone who has served in that position under any recent president.
For six years, Kathleen served on and led the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The agency, which oversees air quality, water quality, water rights and utilities, and the storage and disposal of waste, is the second largest environmental regulatory agency in the world after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Kathleen led TCEQ during an extraordinary period of growth in the Texas population. And yet the state saw impressive declines in the levels of pollution during that time. For example, from 2000 to 2006, Houston grew by approximately one million people — a 25 percent increase — and yet saw eight-hour ozone design values plunge from 205 ppb to 152 ppb.
She recently completed her term as an officer and director of the Lower Colorado River Authority. White now sits on the editorial board of the Journal of Regulatory Science, the Texas Emission Reduction Advisory Board, and the Texas Water Foundation.
Kathleen is an effective regulator. And that’s what is called for in this appointment — not a scientist.
That’s not stopping her critics, such as one Austin NPR station. KUT reported that Kathleen’s nomination has been “controversial.”
It cited the book Kathleen wrote with economist Stephen Moore, “Fueling Freedom,” which quite correctly said that fossil fuels “do work that we otherwise would have to do ourselves.”
What’s controversial about that?
KUT quoted Jim Marston, head of the Environmental Defense Fund in Texas, saying “she’s not a scientist,” and added that Marston couldn’t conceal “his exasperation at Hartnett White’s nomination.”
It’s true she’s not a scientist. Nor have most occupants of that position been, dating back to President Nixon’s first appointee to the post, Richard E. Train, an attorney and one-time judge for a U.S. tax court.
President Carter’s first chairman for the Council was Charles Hugh Warren, a lawyer and former California assemblyman.
More recently, President George W. Bush had only one chairman for the Council during his administration — James L. Connaughton, an energy industry lawyer.
President Obama’s first chair was Nancy Sutley, who held a Bachelor of Arts degree in government from Cornell and a Master of Public Policy from Harvard.
The point here isn’t to disparage any of these dedicated public servants. Indeed, Sutley has spent most of her career in administrative positions in the EPA and various California regulatory agencies.
The point is that few who have held the chairmanship of the Council on Environmental Quality have been scientists. That certainly wasn’t a problem for the Democrat-controlled Senate, which confirmed Sutley by unanimous consent on Jan. 22, 2009 – two days after Obama was sworn in as president.
Kathleen deserves the same consideration. She is one of the most thoughtful and judicious people I have ever known. She listens to all sides and shows superb judgment.
Those senators who were grandstanding during Kathleen’s confirmations hearing recently will not be satisfied with anyone nominated by President Trump. That’s because they differ with the administration on environmental and energy policies, and in its approach to regulation.
But they cannot sincerely oppose Kathleen because she’s unqualified — that would be holding her to an entirely different standard than they held Obama’s appointees to.
The Senate must act quickly to confirm Kathleen Hartnett White. She’s the right person for the job.