Senate Confirms McCarthy as EPA Chief, Ending Four-Month Fight Over Nominee

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By Ari Natter  


The Senate voted July 18 to confirm Gina McCarthy as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, as the agency prepares to take a leading role in the Obama administration's climate change plans.

The 59-40 vote ended a four-month battle with Senate Republicans, although six Republicans voted in McCarthy's favor.

They were Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), and John McCain (R-Ariz.). Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) was recorded as not voting.

McCarthy succeeds Lisa Jackson, who left the position in mid-February after serving all four years of President Obama's first term.

President: McCarthy 'a Proven Leader.'

“With years of experience at the state and local level, Gina is a proven leader who knows how to build bipartisan support for common-sense environmental solutions that protect the health and safety of our kids while promoting economic growth,” Obama said in a statement following the vote.

“Over the past four years, I have valued Gina's counsel and I look forward to having her in my Cabinet as we work to slow the effects of climate change and leave a cleaner environment for future generations,” Obama said.

McCarthy, who served as EPA's assistant administrator for air and radiation since 2009, takes the helm of the agency as it prepares a series of high-profile rules, including first-time limits on carbon dioxide emissions from both new and existing fossil fuel-fired power plants.

In addition, under McCarthy the agency is expected to move forward with regulations related to ozone air quality standards, guidance related to hydraulic fracturing, and more stringent standards limiting vehicle emissions and the sulfur content of gasoline, among other rules (see related story).

Vitter Opposes Confirmation

“In a methodical march against affordable reliable energy, the EPA has crafted and will continue to put forward multiple rules to stop the use of coal as part of our energy mix, to increase prices at the pump, to create energy scarcity at a time when energy independence is within our reach,” Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said in remarks on the Senate floor prior to the vote.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the only Democrat to vote against McCarthy, also said he has concerns the EPA would “regulate the coal industry out of existence.”

“I voted against Gina McCarthy to be the next Administrator of the EPA, but my fight is not with her,” Manchin said in a statement following the vote. “My fight is with President Obama and the EPA.”

However, McCarthy has won a reputation for working with industry even as she has overseen some of EPA's most significant air pollution regulations.

In addition, some Republicans said her history of working for Republicans, including former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney, helped win them over.

Alexander Lauds 'Republican Credentials.'

“I don't think it's likely that we're likely to get another nominee by President Obama with better Republican credentials,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) told reporters prior to the final vote.

Earlier in the day, the Senate voted 69-31 to limit debate on the nomination, with 16 Republicans also voting to invoke cloture.

“Gina has a keen understanding of the challenges facing our industry, and we have had a long and constructive relationship,” the Edison Electric Institute, a utility group, said in a statement. “We will continue to work with her and her team to ensure that EPA considers the environmental benefits, as well as the energy and economic impacts--particularly on customers--of each rulemaking that affects our industry.”

Still, McCarthy faced a 135-day wait after she was nominated, the longest in history, according to the Center for American Progress. She faced plenty of Republican opposition, including a Republican boycott during her confirmation hearing and a request for written responses to more than 1,000 questions.

Breakthrough After Vitter Deal

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved her nomination on a 10-8 vote in May (96 DEN A-1, 5/17/13).

One breakthrough for McCarthy came after Vitter, who serves as the committee's top Republican, announced he would not filibuster her nomination once EPA agreed to what he said were “huge, significant steps” related to agency transparency.

Specifically, Vitter said the agency agreed to retrain employees and issue guidance on proper record maintenance and use of personal email in conducting agency business following the completion of an audit by the inspector general, among other measures (132 DEN A-1, 7/10/13).

“The Senate has, finally, confirmed one of the most qualified, capable, and collaborative leaders ever to head the Environmental Protection Agency,” Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke said in a statement. “Now, Gina McCarthy's work begins.”

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