WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate has approved President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency's air pollution office just as the agency is set to finalize rules over climate-changing emissions from power plants and cars and trucks.
Joe Goffman is a longtime EPA official who has headed the air and radiation office on an acting basis since Biden took office three years ago. His nomination for the permanent post languished for nearly two years amid opposition from Republicans unhappy with EPA rules on a range of issues, from restrictions on coal- and natural gas-fired power plants to industrial soot and vehicle emissions.
Goffman's 2022 nomination for the air post, one of the top jobs at EPA, lapsed last year without a Senate vote. He was renominated in early 2023. The vote to confirm him was 50-49, with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, an ally of the coal industry, the lone Democrat to oppose him. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, a vocal Goffman critic, was absent following the death of his wife, Bobbi, last week.
EPA Administrator Michael Regan said Goffman has played a central role in developing and executing rules and policies that deliver on Biden’s agenda to address the climate crisis and ensure clean air.
“Joe is uniquely skilled at building consensus among stakeholders and crafting policies that tackle global challenges like climate change, while at the same time addressing longstanding pollution concerns in overburdened communities,'' Regan said in a statement.
Goffman's office has overseen proposals that would impose strict limits on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and other industries, as well as tailpipe emissions from cars and trucks and a separate rule addressing fine particulate matter, better known as soot. Those rules are set to become final later this year.
Sen. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat who chairs the Senate Environment Committee, hailed Goffman's confirmation. The air office “has an outsized impact on our lives,” Carper said, with a mission that "includes reducing climate pollution while also improving our vehicle emissions standards and protecting public health.''
Goffman “has proven that he’s up to the task,'' Carper added. ”Under his direction, EPA has made significant progress ... to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help lower energy costs for all Americans.”
But Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, the top Republican on the environment panel, slammed Goffman as a key author of job-killing regulations over two Democratic administrations. Goffman was a high-ranking EPA official in the Obama administration and played a leading role in the Clean Power Plan, President Barack Obama's signature attempt to address climate change. The 2015 rule was blocked by the Supreme Court and was never enforced.
“Rarely do we have such a robust record to draw on in evaluating a nominee — and I say this with great disappointment — rarely is the record so damaging,'' Capito said in a speech on the Senate floor.
“Mr. Goffman’s actions — marked by federal overreach and job-killing regulations — have been a disaster for our country,'' Capito said. She called the Clean Power Plan “a direct shot at American energy production" and an attempt to shut down coal- and gas-fired power plants, including those in her home state.
An EPA plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants is little more than the "second iteration of the Clean Power Plan,'' Capito said.
“Many of us have warned about the lawlessness and danger of this regulatory plan,'' she said, predicting “disastrous consequences" on the reliability of the electric grid and energy prices.
Capito and other Republicans also denounced Goffman's role in what they called the Biden administration’s rapid push toward electric vehicles.
Environmental groups defended Goffman.
“Our nation needs Joe’s extensive experience, knowledge and hard work as we tackle the increasingly urgent problems of the climate crisis and the air pollution that makes people sick,'' said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund. Goffman once worked for the group in a long career that also includes service as a Democratic staff lawyer on the Senate environment panel.
“Joe has dedicated his career to protecting human health and the environment'' and will continue to do so "through decisions anchored in science and the law,'' Krupp said.