News and analysis about energy in California with an eye toward renewables.

Senate Confirms New Head of EPA

Gina McCarthy, incoming Environmental Protection Agency administrator | Photo: EPA

Ending a long stalemate, the U.S. Senate voted 59-40 today to confirm Regina "Gina" McCarthy as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. McCarthy was nominated in March. The long-delayed confirmation had been a bargaining chip in a partisan battle over the Obama administration's energy policy.

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Among other positions, McCarthy was previously the EPA's Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation.

The five months between McCarthy's nomination and this week's confirmation marks the longest time the EPA has gone without an official administrator. Former Administrator Lisa Jackson stepped down in January. In the interim, the agency had been managed by Bob Perciasepe, the EPA's Deputy Administrator.

Republicans in the Senate had been holding up McCarthy's confirmation essentially as a result of actions by Senators Roy Blunt of Missouri and David Vitter of Louisiana, who objected to EPA's insistence on habitat protection in a Mississippi river levee project. Vitter, who's the ranking Republican on the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee, told press on various occasions that he was waiting on the confirmation until McCarthy answered a full set of questions posed by his committee in some detail about how she'd manage the EPA. There were 1,100 questions on the list, all but 25 of them from the Committee's Republican members. Vitter is credited with writing at least 600 of those questions.

The Republican stall was not much more than a symbolic annoyance, given that Perciasepe is eminently qualified to run the EPA in his own right. In fact, McCarthy may well be easier for Republican Senators to work with than the liberal Democrat Perciasepe, given her tenure as Mitt Romney's environmental advisor when Romney was Governor of Massachusetts.

Now that she's got the keys to the office, McCarthy will be in charge of implementing Obama administration plans for the EPA to begin regulating carbon emissions from power plants and other sources, as well as guiding the administration to a final decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. In other words, McCarthy's tenure will shape White House climate change policy.

She's got the backing of large environmental groups in that regard, with groups like EDF lauding McCarthy for her history of what they called "common-sense environmentalism" and bipartisanship.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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