President Obama’s nominee for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sailed through her confirmation hearing last Thursday, fielding softball questions from Democrats. The issues raised by Republicans were more pointed, but not by much. Gina McCarthy was not pressed on one of the most important issues to oil and gas — regulations pertaining to hydraulic fracturing (fracturing).
Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee argued that McCarthy, since assuming the position of assistant administrator for the EPA Office of Air and Radiation, has forced 10% of coal-fired power plants in the nation to be taken off line due to the implementation of stricter emissions regulations. Natural gas has gained a greater share of the power generation market as a result, but Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) said coal is “now on the path to becoming obsolete.”
McCarthy disagreed with the Senate panel, saying that she believes that coal will continue to be a significant source of energy in the United States.
Inhofe said he was “concerned about the direction of the EPA office, particularly the air office. The president’s campaign against fossil fuels has been [a] government-wide effort. The president saved many of the worst regulations for his second term.” EPA regulations could have a “sustained chilling effect on achieving the goal of domestic energy independence” and could shut down many oil and gas activities across the country.
“I hope we can move this nomination swiftly” out of committee to the Senate floor, said Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA). There it could face some problems, however. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) has a hold on McCarthy’s nomination over a dispute involving a water project in his state (see NGI, March 25). Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also has signaled his opposition to McCarthy, a position that is likely to be shared by other Republicans who represent coal-producing states. Obama nominated McCarthy to head up the EPA in March (see NGI, March 11).
“This attack on Gina McCarthy [by McConnell] is inexplicable given that she was previously confirmed by the Senate for a top EPA position without a single recorded ‘no’ vote, and she is one of the most qualified and bipartisan nominees to ever come before the Senate,” Boxer said.
If confirmed by the Senate, McCarthy would 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 emissions that are currently being lost. The Obama administration extended the deadline to embrace unconventional resources, particularly shale gas.
According to McCarthy, Obama wants Congress to act on climate change. But in the meantime, he has directed his agencies to review what authorities they have to combat global warming.
“I believe that the science is overwhelming” that climate change exists, she said, adding that man-made emissions are a major contributor. While she could not put an exact dollar estimate on it, McCarthy said the economic exposure of climate change to the United States is quite large.
One of the Republicans’ biggest criticisms is EPA’s failure to share information with Congress. The Republicans complained about the lack of transparency regarding EPA operations and limited access to agency information. The data that can’t be shared relates involves personal medical information, McCarthy said.
“There’s no excuse for that,” said Sen. David Vitter (R-LA). EPA can turn over the requested information once its been scrubbed of personal data, he said. Republicans also want the EPA to assess the impact of major regulations on energy prices and jobs.
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