Gina McCarthy appears headed for EPA top job as Sen. Vitter drops filibuster threat

07 16, 2013 by The Times-Picayune

Gina McCarthy appears headed for Senate confirmation as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now that Sen. David Vitter, R-La., has dropped his threat to filibuster her nomination.

"I've had very productive conversations with EPA over the last several weeks, and believe the agency has taken significant steps forward on our five transparency requests," Vitter said. "These are huge, significant steps forward to bringing transparency to the agency, and I see no further reason to block Gina McCarthy's nomination, and I'll support moving to an up-or-down vote on her nomination."

Vitter still might vote against her nomination, but by agreeing not to support a filibuster it's likely Senate Democrats can get the 60 votes needed to bring her nomination to a vote -- likely later this week. Vitter is the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which has jurisdiction over the EPA.

President Barack Obamas nominated McCarthy on March. 4. She has directed EPA's clean air policy for the last four years and previously developed a reputation as an effective state bureaucrat who could work with industry while serving several GOP governors, including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

In May, Vitter led a GOP boycott of a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee meeting, blocking a scheduled vote on the McCarthy nomination. A week later, Republicans ended the boycott, allowing the majority Democrats on the panel to move her nomination to the full Senate.

During two months of negotiations, Vitter won an agreement from EPA to release data behind two epidemiological studies used to justify several EPA air quality rules that some industries considered overreach. The agency has long resisted releasing the information, expressing privacy concerns.

But under the agreement with Vitter, the agency now says it can release meaningful information without revealing names of study participants.

Vitter said the EPA has also agreed to retrain the agency's 17,000 employers on records maintenance and the use of personal e-mail accounts -- areas in which he contends the agency so mismanaged as to keep key information from the public.

The EPA also agreed to a compromise on Vitter's insistence that the agency set up a protocol to better consider the economic impacts of EPA's rule-making, and to post information on regulatory petitions and lawsuits. Vitter contends that some lawsuits filed by environmental groups resulted in settlements that were hard on industry and not justified by cost-benefit analysis.

The agency and Vitter did not agree on the senator's demand for unredacted copies of staff emails -- some under assumed names. But Vitter said he's working with House Oversight Committee Chairman, Darrell Issa to get full copies of the emails, possibly via subpoenas that are authorized for Issa's committee.

John Walke, director of Climate and Clean Air Program for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said it's good that Vitter won commitments to more transparency, but also "good" the agency resisted calls for changes that could have resulted in policy changes to weaken environmental controls.

Josh Saks, legislative director for the National Wildlife Federation, agreed: "Senator Vitter, in exchange for lifting his hold on Gina McCarthy, got the Environmental Protection Agency to take a number of steps to increase transparency and openness in government. These are good things and we're excited to get Gina McCarthy confirmed and to begin the serious work ahead implementing President Obama's plan to act on climate."

Vitter, who criticized the president's latest climate change initiative, Monday called on Obama to send a representative to Thursday's Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the issue. Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., has scheduled testimony from leading scientists on the negative impact of climate change, but no one from the administration.

Here's what Vitter said in his letter to the president:

"The American people should not be kept in the dark regarding the scope of the actions your administration is taking under the guise of controlling our climate - actions that have the potential to negatively impact employment, job creation, and our national debt. These actions are being taken without China, India, and Russia -- some of the world's largest carbon emitters..."