Senate Confirms Gina McCarthy as EPA Administrator

The Senate on Thursday confirmed Gina McCarthy as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a bipartisan vote of 59–40.

President Obama nominated McCarthy for the post on March 4, but her nomination had been stalled first in the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, where Republicans led by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) had blocked a scheduled vote, and then in the full Senate, by a tussle over changing filibuster rules.

On July 9, Vitter confirmed he wouldn’t further block a long-delayed vote on McCarthy’s nomination, noting the EPA had made "major progress" on five transparency requests made by EPW Republicans this May.

McCarthy has served four years as assistant administrator for the EPA Office of Air and Radiation and has faced scrutiny for her role in various controversial air rulemakings since 2009. She replaces Lisa Jackson as administrator of the EPA. Prior to her confirmation as assistant administrator for the EPA’s Air and Radiation office in 2009—a nomination even then contested by Republicans—McCarthy served as the commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection and has worked both at state and local levels on environmental issues. She has worked for four previous Massachusetts governors and was part of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s 2003-appointed team to oversee the state’s environmental regulatory agenda—including the hefty task of shaping Massachusetts’s first climate protection action plan.

McCarthy holds a Bachelor’s degree in social anthropology from the University of Massachusetts at Boston and a joint Master of Science in environmental health engineering and planning and policy from Tufts University.

Her confirmation on July 18 was lauded by environmental and industry groups alike. Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), said the long-awaited confirmation would bring "greater certainty to the agency" at a "critical time."

"A number of significant electric power industry issues are on EPA’s regulatory agenda right now, including the pending Section 316(b) rule for cooling water intake structures, coal ash regulations, and new source performance standards for new and existing power plants," he noted. “In the past, we have worked closely with Gina in her role as Assistant Administrator of the Office of Air and Radiation on several rulemakings, including the recent rule on Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. Gina has a keen understanding of the challenges facing our industry, and we have had a long and constructive relationship. 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.”

The Sierra Club and a number of environmental groups applauded the bipartisan vote that confirmed McCarthy’s nomination. "And while we are pleased that McCarthy has finally been confirmed, there is simply no good reason that it should take 137 days for a qualified, experienced, bi-partisan nominee like her to be confirmed," said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.

Sources: POWERnews, EPA, EEI, The Sierra Club

Sonal Patel, Senior Writer (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)

NOTE: This story was originally published on July 18