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Nomination for EPA Chief Stirs Partisan Passion

Nomination for EPA Chief Stirs Partisan Passion

Nomination for EPA Chief Stirs Partisan Passion

United States President Barack Obama’s choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made some progress toward confirmation on May 16 when the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee – on a 10-8 party line vote – agreed to send the nomination for Gina McCarthy to the full Senate for consideration.  The vote came in the midst of an unusually partisan fight over her nomination.

Only a week earlier, Republicans had boycotted a planned committee vote on her nomination by failing to show up for the vote.  At that meeting, Committee Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) was unable to get the 10 votes needed to approve the nomination without Republican support because only nine of her members were present. 

As it turned out, Republicans showed up for the second vote and senior Republican David Vitter (R-LA) laid out their current stand on McCarthy’s nomination. Vitter said the EPA has made meaningful progress on answering Republican’s concerns about a range of issues.  However, he said there is still a long way to go before he will agree to allow McCarthy’s nomination to move forward without a filibuster on the Senate floor. 

He added that if the EPA agrees to comply with all five of the policy requests he has put forward, he will support McCarthy’s nomination on the floor.  Vitter’s concerns center around former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson’s use of an alias email account to discuss official business and concerns over the agency’s aggressive regulatory actions. Specifically, he asked for five policy actions:

  1. That the EPA ensure that all official business is conducted solely on official government email accounts;  that the agency implement rules for timely response to FOIA requests and Congressional inquiries; and that EPA staff undergo training on these issues.
  2. That all private email accounts of McCarthy are reviewed, and that all emails regarding official EPA business are shared with the committee.
  3. That underlying data used to promulgate Clean Air Act rules be made public so the public can independently examine cost/benefit and other issues.
  4. That written assurances be given the committee that the EPA will conduct cost/benefit analysis through issuance of new guidance mandating “whole economy” modeling on major rules.
  5. That all petitions for rulemaking, notices of intent to sue, and proposed settlements be tracked and made public via readily available links on the EPA website.

At the hearing, Boxer seemed unimpressed with Vitter’s offer and accused Vitter of playing politics with the nomination.  In a heated exchange with Vitter, she pointed out that Republicans submitted a record 1,000+ questions for McCarthy to answer during the confirmation process.

McCarthy’s nomination will now head to the full Senate where she faces an uncertain future.  Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) has placed a hold on the nomination because of concerns over an unrelated levee issue.  Blunt is scheduled to meet with EPA officials soon and is expected to announce his plans at that point.  If Blunt or other Republicans decide to filibuster the nomination, it will take 60 votes – including some Republicans – for her to gain approval. 

McCarthy is not the only nominee expected to face a difficult time gaining Senate approval.  Labor Secretary nominee Tom Perez is in a similar situation, and Commerce Secretary nominee Penny Pritzker – a billionaire and former chair of Obama’s fundraising committee —is almost certain to face extensive scrutiny of her financial holdings, including overseas investments and of her qualifications for the Commerce job.

Story by Brent S. Franzel, Principal, Cardinal Point Partners, LLC

Archives of Energy Strategies Report.

   Subject Matter Expert:

Paul Weida
   Black & Veatch's Government Affairs Director

June 2013 Issue