By Jessica Coomes and Andrew Childers
President Obama's selection of Gina McCarthy March 4 to be the Environmental
Protection Agency's next administrator drew compliments from environmental
advocates and industry sources, who described her as a pragmatist who listens to
all interest groups.
McCarthy, the agency's assistant administrator for air and radiation, has
overseen some of the most stringent air regulations in recent history, and while
industry groups have not always supported the rules, they acknowledge she has
been open to hearing their concerns.
“Gina is certainly an environmentalist, but she is not anti-industry, and I
have to give her credit,” said Jeffrey Holmstead, a former EPA assistant
administrator for air and radiation who now is a partner at Bracewell &
Giuliani LLP. “She has been willing to listen to and to really try to understand
concerns of industry. She doesn't always agree with them, but among people
generally in industry, people would say at least she's willing to listen to
In his announcement at the White House, Obama also touched on McCarthy's
ability to deal fairly with all parties.
“She's earned a reputation as a straight shooter,” he said. “She welcomes
different points of view.”
The nomination is contingent on Senate confirmation, and some observers are
expecting Republicans to use McCarthy's confirmation process as an opportunity
to complain about the Obama administration's environmental agenda. Ultimately,
however, she is expected to be confirmed (see related story).
McCarthy, who established EPA's greenhouse gas greenhouse program, would take
over the agency at a time when President Obama has made climate change a
priority (see related story).
The EPA administrator position has been open since Lisa Jackson left the
agency Feb. 14. Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe has been leading EPA as
acting administrator since Jackson's departure.
During remarks at the White House, Obama publicly thanked Perciasepe for his
work, and said, “As we move forward, there is nobody who can do a better job in
filling Lisa's shoes permanently than my nominee … Gina McCarthy.”
Obama announced his intent to nominate McCarthy along with his selection of
MIT physicist Ernest Moniz to be secretary of energy and Sylvia Mathews Burwell
to be the director of the Office of Management and Budget (see related stories
on Moniz and Burwell).
As EPA's top air official, McCarthy has been willing to listen to industry's
concerns, Holmstead told BNA in an interview prior to the announcement, which
was widely expected.
For example, Holmstead credited McCarthy with convincing Jackson and other
top EPA officials that the agency should revise mercury and air toxics standards
for newly built power plants. EPA had issued standards to regulate both new and
existing power plants in February 2012, but industry had argued the original
standards for new plants were set at such low levels that emissions could not be
measured, and utilities could not receive financing to build new coal plants.
The final modifications for newly built plants are expected this month.
Howard Feldman, director of regulatory and scientific affairs at the American
Petroleum Institute, told reporters March 1 that the trade group has had a good
relationship with McCarthy.
“She seems to be a person that seems to be willing to listen to concerns,”
Feldman said. “Certainly on specific rules we've seen EPA step back and say,
'What is the right way to solve this?' ”
Bill Allmond, vice president of government and public relations for the
Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates, said in a statement March 4
that McCarthy deserves the nomination.
“Though we may not always agree on policy issues, we believe Ms. McCarthy has
an understanding of issues impacting specialty chemical manufacturers and SOCMA
members,” Allmond said. “With her extensive experience with air issues and
through our previous interactions with her, she is aware of the significant
costs regulations impose on small businesses, an awareness that is essential for
anyone who serves in the position of EPA Administrator.”
William Bumpers, a partner at Baker Botts LLP who represents power plants and
other industry clients, told BNA March 4 that he is a fan of McCarthy, calling
her competent and likeable.
“She is one of these avid environmental program managers who is exceptionally
competent but practical,” Bumpers said. “My experience with her in the past four
years, I can meet with her. She's very forthright. There's no guile with her.
While I haven't always agreed with the rules that come out of there, there's
never been any guess work about what comes out of there.”
Steve Harper, director of environment and energy policy for Intel, told
reporters during a telephone news conference March 4 that McCarthy is
“In working with Gina over the last four years, what we've experienced is a
person who really does get it in terms of what industry needs from an EPA
leader,” Harper said.
Environmental groups also roundly praised McCarthy's nomination March 4.
Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement
that McCarthy “is well known for listening and responding to the concerns of
both environmental advocates and industry stakeholders, and for pursuing a
regulatory approach that is flexible, reasonable and cost-effective.”
Before coming to EPA in 2009, McCarthy was the commissioner of the
Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, a job she took in 2004.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) said McCarthy “was a fierce advocate of
the state's natural resources” when she worked in Connecticut.
“Connecticut's loss has undoubtedly been the country's gain--Gina's tireless
work to improve air quality and slow climate change has made an important impact
in Washington and across the globe,” Malloy said in a written statement.
McCarthy also worked in Massachusetts for 25 years in a variety of positions,
including deputy secretary of operations of the Massachusetts Office for
Commonwealth Development, where she was responsible for coordinating policies
from a range of state agencies, including those overseeing environmental,
transportation, energy, and housing issues.
Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, said in a
statement March 4 that McCarthy cares about progress, not partisanship.
“She's worked for administrations from both parties and made extraordinary
progress protecting the air we breathe and defending public health,” Karpinski
McCarthy earned a master's degree from Tufts University in environmental
health engineering and planning and policy. She received her undergraduate
degree in social anthropology from the University of Massachusetts.
The Senate in June 2009 confirmed McCarthy by voice vote to be assistant
administrator for air and radiation (104 DEN A-1, 6/3/09).
During her confirmation hearing, McCarthy said her top two priorities would
be climate change and rewriting agency regulations that had been struck down by
the courts, such as the Clean Air Interstate Rule and mercury emissions limits
on power plants.
Her answer proved to be a road map for her work during the president's first
On climate change, McCarthy's office oversaw the establishment of the
greenhouse gas regulatory program, including the first greenhouse gas emissions
limits for passenger and medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, as well as the first
greenhouse gas permitting program for large stationary sources. Additionally,
her office proposed the first carbon dioxide emissions limit for newly built
In addition to climate change issues, McCarthy's office attempted to replace
the Clean Air Interstate Rule with the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. However,
the D.C. Circuit struck the rule down, and EPA now is deciding whether to
recommend that the government appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court (EME
Homer City Generation LP v. EPA, D.C. Cir., No. 11-1302, mandate
issued 2/4/13; 24 DEN A-1, 2/5/13).
During McCarthy's tenure, EPA also set stringent emissions limits for mercury
and air toxics from power plants. The rule is being challenged in the D.C.
Circuit (White Stallion Energy Center LLC v. EPA, D.C. Cir., No. 12-1100,
brief filed 2/11/13; 16 DEN A-2, 1/24/13).
Obama said McCarthy, as assistant administrator, developed “practical,
cost-effective ways to keep our air clean and our economy growing.”
Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air
Agencies, called McCarthy battle-tested and smart.
“I think the nice thing about Gina going from [assistant administrator to
administrator] is the transition will be very seamless,” Becker told reporters
during a telephone news conference March 4. “She knows the issues. She's worked
them at least on the air front. We don't expect that much difficulty in getting
these rules that have been proposed … through.”
Although McCarthy has worked primarily on air issues at EPA, groups that
track water quality issues are optimistic that her leadership on climate change
will increase focus on water issues.
“If her selection is an indication of the priority the president intends to
place on climate issues, we applaud this since we know that the impacts of
climate change will be manifested first and most directly in changes to the
water cycle,” the Water Environment Federation told BNA in a statement March 4.
“Her past service as a chief environmental official in two New England states
provided a broad familiarity with Clean Water Act issues and the challenges
older communities in particular are facing with the cost of new regulations and
replacement of aging infrastructure.”
Tom Curtis, deputy executive director for government affairs for the American
Water Works Association, told BNA in a statement March 4 that the group has not
worked closely with McCarthy, “but by reputation, we understand her to be very
dedicated to her agency's missions, but willing to listen to those she
“One advantage to the water community in this nomination is that climate
change carries huge implications for water providers, and as the top official at
EPA dealing with climate change over the last four years, she comes well
prepared to understand those issues,” Curtis said.
On chemical issues, Ernie Rosenberg, president of the American Cleaning
Institute, said the trade association wants to work with McCarthy to modernize
the Toxic Substances Control Act.
“We want and need a workable, science-based, robust bipartisan law that
enhances consumer confidence in federal chemical management,” Rosenberg said in
a statement March 4. “A modernized law needs to give the Agency the authority it
needs to protect human health and safety while encouraging--and not
By Jessica Coomes and Andrew ChildersContributing to this
report was Amena H. Saiyid