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McCarthy Confirmed as EPA Chief

The Senate Thursday confirmed Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), ending a four-month long stalemate between Republicans and Democrats over her controversial nomination.

By a vote of 59-40, McCarthy's nomination cleared the upper chamber, where it had been languishing for 154 days. Six Republicans voted for McCarthy: -- Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee, and Jeff Flake and John McCain of Arizona. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who said he had serious disagreements with McCarthy over energy policy, was the only Democrat to vote against her.

The confirmation came shortly after the Senate had invoked cloture to limit debate on McCarthy's nomination, which had been in limbo since March, when President Obama announced his intent to nominate her to replace Lisa Jackson, who resigned as administrator of the EPA in December (see NGI, March 11; Jan. 7). The EPA has been headed by Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe since then.

McCarthy was the last of the Obama administration's three energy-related appointments to be approved by the Senate. Sally Jewell was confirmed as secretary of the Interior Department in mid-April and Ernest Moniz as secretary of the Department of Energy the following month (see NGI, May 20; April 15). She previously was head of EPA's Office of Air and Radiation during Obama's first term, and played a key role in the agency's efforts to eliminate harmful air pollution from oil and natural gas production and other sources. The agency and the oil and natural gas industry have clashed repeatedly during the Obama administration.

In 2012, the agency was forced to withdraw orders against three producers for alleged groundwater contamination after the agency had erred in its investigations (see NGI, April 9, 2012). The agency also issued a final rule aimed at eliminating air pollution from oil and natural gas production facilities with compliance extended until 2015. But the EPA's estimates of air emissions from oil and gas are widely disputed by industry.

Nevertheless, some industry groups said they look forward to working with McCarthy in the future. Dave McCurdy, president of the American Gas Association, said "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."

Moreover, "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," he noted.

Jack Gerard, CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, also congratulated McCarthy on her confirmation. "McCarthy's confirmation comes at a critical time as our economy is recovering and America is becoming a global leader on energy. President Obama has laid out a vision for an 'all-of-the-above' energy strategy, and we hope McCarthy's leadership will align the agency's regulations with that vision."

The Sierra Club, American Chemistry Council and Edison Electric Institute immediately welcomed McCarthy's confirmation.

"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, last Thursday, referring to the Senate 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. Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, 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 (see NGI, May 13). Vitter said Republicans took the action because McCarthy provided "unresponsive" answers to questions related to agency transparency. Vitter said the EPA eventually responded to his transparency requests and that he reversed his position and would support the nomination (see NGI, July 15).

Speaking on the Senate floor last Wednesday, Vitter said, "When this important nomination first came up, I focused on these transparency issues...I think this is a crucial issue." 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.

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