Montana senators push for Benevento nomination

Doug Benevento’s nomination as EPA’s deputy administrator, imperiled by Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst’s anger with the agency over ethanol standards, is receiving a quiet boost from Montana’s Senate delegation.

Both Republican Sen. Steve Daines and Democratic Sen. Jon Tester say they have lobbied their colleagues who sit on the Environment and Public Works Committee to support Benevento’s nomination.

“Senator Tester supports Benevento’s confirmation and is hopeful his fellow senators will support him,” said Tester’s communications director, Sarah Feldman. “He believes Montana will continue to benefit” from Benevento’s “responsiveness on Superfund.”

Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, ranking Democrat on the EPW committee, read a statement of support for Benevento from Tester to the committee.

“I’ve personally worked with Doug Benevento and believe he is a great pick to help lead the EPA,” Daines said in a statement. “He’s worked vigorously on important issues in Montana like delisting and cleaning up our Superfund sites. … I encourage every Senator to support him. He’s been exceptional to work with,” Daines said.

He added that he’s been encouraging all senators, including EPW members, to vote for him.

The dispute between Ernst and the EPA stems from the perennial conflict between the oil and gas lobby and the ethanol-biofuels lobby over mandates to use a certain percentage of biofuels in gasoline. Congress initially passed the Renewable Fuel Standard in 2007 and since then EPA and Congress have constantly wrangled over what percentage of biofuels to make mandatory.

Ernst is facing a tough reelection battle this year and is under pressure to show results for Iowa agriculture.

EPW Chairman Sen. John Barrasso, the Wyoming Republican, has said that even though Benevento is qualified and Barrasso disagrees with Ernst’s position on the fuels standard, he will not bring Benevento’s nomination to the floor until Ernst drops her objection to him. But if Benevento were to win support from any Democratic members on the committee, it could change the dynamic and get the nomination to the floor.