Continued GOP/Vitter opposition threatens confirmation of Obama's EPA nominee

06 11, 2013 by The Times-Picayune

Gina McCarthy's nomination to head the Environmental Protection Agency remains on hold because of continued opposition by Republicans led by Louisiana Sen. David Vitter.

Vitter reiterated Monday his request that McCarthy provide documents requested by him and other Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

"On April 11, in your nomination hearing, you pledged to provide the Committee with relevant information we requested and that you would provide all documents and other information to the Committee in a timely manner," Vitter said in a letter to McCarthy. "This is especially important in connection with our ongoing pursuit of transparency."

Vitter spokesman Luke Bolar said of the documents requested by Vitter and other committee Republicans, less than 5 percent has been provided. That doesn't include, he said, requests that McCarthy commit to operating EPA with more transparency on issues such as Freedom of Information Act requests and settlement of lawsuits with environmental groups.

Vitter is the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee.

McCarthy, currently assistant administrator of EPA, was nominated March 4 by President Barack Obama to replace New Orleans native Lisa Jackson as the agency administrator. A Boston native, McCarthy has worked for more than two decades as an environmental administrator, including a stint as the environmental adviser for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee.

Bloomberg Business Week reported that one of the requests from Vitter -- data supporting a link between air pollution and premature death -- was compiled by Harvard University two decades ago and confidentiality agreements with thousands of participants prevent researchers from making it public. Even EPA can't access the Harvard analysis, Business Week said.

According to Business Week, Vitter has said that he would filibuster the McCarthy nomination without the Harvard data. The energy industry has disputed some of the links between air pollution and early death. It's more than a philosophical disagreement -- the data justified some of EPA's regulatory action on diesel engines, industrial boilers and coal-generated power plants.

Environmentalists have accused Vitter and Republicans of demanding so much information in an effort to paralyze the agency.

"She's answered more than 1,000 questions from committee Democrats and Republicans," said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "She's demonstrated a strong commitment to protect our air, water, land and health. And no one is better qualified to lead this vital agency at a time of mounting climate crisis."

Vitter said he and fellow Republicans aren't being unreasonable.

Vitter pointed to the delay of a confirmation vote for Allison MacFarlane to head the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, due to a request by Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., for nearly 70,000 documents. Vitter said the delay worked because Boxer got the information she requested.

Democrats are conceding the McCarthy nomination is in jeopardy. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he wouldn't schedule a Senate vote on her nomination until July.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he isn't sure whether McCarthy, or Labor Secretary nominee Thomas Perez, has the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster. Perez is another Obama nominee being held up by Vitter and the Republicans.

Some Democrats are pressing Reid and Durbin to change Senate rules so that key presidential and judicial nominations can be confirmed with a simple majority of the 100-member Senate -- rather than the 60 votes now routinely required by Republicans.