Environmental groups, the Edison Electric Institute and large natural gas end-users were quick to commend the Senate's confirmation Thursday of Gina McCarthy as head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but oil and natural gas companies were apparently following the rule, "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."
McCarthy has been a major critic of some of the industry's practices, particularly hydraulic fracturing (fracking). The agency currently is studying the potential impacts of fracking on drinking water resources; a report likely will be finalized in 2016. She has been at the center of the "draconian" rules affecting the energy industry, said Sen. David Vitter (R-LA).
As EPA administrator, McCarthy will oversee industry compliance with a final rule on fracking emissions, which has a deadline of Jan. 1, 2015. According to the rule, volatile organic compounds would be slashed at new wells, those drilled after Aug. 23, 2011, through a two-phase process requiring flaring followed by "green completions," equipment that would be used to capture and sell natural gas currently being lost to emissions. The Obama administration extended the deadline to embrace green completions, particularly for shale gas (see Shale Daily, April 19, 2012).
By a vote of 59-40, the McCarthy nomination cleared the Senate, where it had been languishing for 154 days. The Senate's confirmation came shortly after it had invoked cloture to limit debate on McCarthy's nomination. McCarthy's nomination had been in limbo since March when President Obama announced his intent to nominate her. EPA has been headed by Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe in the interim.
"This is a day I've longed for for a long time," said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Thursday, referring to the vote on McCarthy. "This is the longest time [that] EPA has been without an administrator," she said.
Senate Republicans opposed McCarthy's nomination from the start due to her role in drafting regulations affecting the energy industry (see Shale Daily, April 12). Vitter, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and one of her main critics, led a Republican boycott of the committee's vote on McCarthy in May (seeShale Daily, ). Vitter said Republicans took the action because McCarthy provided "unresponsive" answers to his party's questions related to agency transparency.
Vitter said the EPA last week responded to his transparency requests and that he had reversed his position and would support the nomination.
Speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday, Vitter said, "When this important nomination first came up, I focused on these transparency issues...I think this is a crucial issue." The EPA is led by ideology, not sober, sound science, he said, and McCarthy has been at the center of the debate over the agency's "draconian rules" governing the energy industry.
"Over many months I went back and forth with Ms. McCarthy," and as a result was able to "secure substantial commitments" with respect to transparency, he said.
McCarthy is the last of the Obama administration's three energy-related appointments to be approved by the Senate. The Senate confirmed Sally Jewell as secretary of the Interior Department in mid-April, and Ernest Moniz as secretary of the Department of Energy the following month (see Daily GPI, April 11; May 17).
McCarthy replaces Lisa Jackson, who resigned from the EPA in December (see Shale Daily, Dec. 28, 2012). She currently serves as assistant administrator in EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, where she played a key role in the agency's efforts under Jackson to eliminate harmful air pollution from oil and natural gas production (see Shale Daily, July 29, 2011).
Dave McCurdy, president of the American Gas Association, expressed his support for McCarthy. "Gina McCarthy and I have a constructive working relationship based on open and honest dialogue that will continue as we work towards the shared goal of improving the data available on the environmental impact of natural gas," he said.
"Recent EPA estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from the well to natural gas customers' homes and businesses have been dramatically reduced and America's natural gas utilities are committed to continuing to lower them further. We look forward to working with [McCarthy] and her staff on that effort."