Will Republicans block EPA chief nominee Gina McCarthy?

Gina McCarthy's work with Republican governors could ease her confirmation as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. But her role in expanding regulations on the power industry will draw opposition from some in Congress.

Alex Brandon/AP/File
Gina McCarthy, President Obama's nominee for EPA chief, speaks at a climate workshop sponsored by The Climate Center at Georgetown University. If confirmed, Ms. McCarthy will replace Lisa Jackson, whose push for regulations made her a target of the fossil fuel industry.

President Obama's pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency has some believing the administration is redoubling its efforts to slow climate change. That may complicate the confirmation process for Gina McCarthy, as Republicans and coal-state Democrats size up the longtime state and federal environmental policymaker.

Already, some on the right are expressing their displeasure.

“This nomination represents a missed opportunity for the President to chart a new course that balances environmental regulations with the need for jobs in our local communities," said US Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) of West Virginia in a statement Monday.

It's a significant choice because next on the EPA's agenda is what to do about existing coal power plants. The EPA has already introduced standards on all new coal-fired plants that require them to emit less than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour. The question is whether the agency will now expand that kind of requirement to older coal plants. 

"These new source performance standards for the existing electric portfolio might also be the only 'executive action' that would mollify the environmental lobby if Mr. Obama does eventually approve the Keystone XL pipeline," notes the Wall Street Journal. "The greens may not be able to stop the Canadians from extracting oil from the Alberta tar sands, but they would succeed in wiping out American coal-fired power."

Ms. McCarthy served 25 years in federal and state government under five different governors, including Mitt Romney, former Republican governor of Massachusetts. From 2004 to 2009, she led Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection under Republican Governor Jodi Rell.

Her work with GOP governors might make her palatable to many Republicans. But it's her role at EPA during the Obama administration that has conservatives upset.

As assistant administrator of  EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, she played a significant role in drafting new regulations that cited carbon as a pollutant and helped slow the coal industry's growth.

McCarthy has drawn opposition before. When Obama nominated her in 2009 for that EPA post, Sen. John Barrasso (R) of Wyoming delayed her confirmation. Mr. Barrasso expressed concern at the time over the EPA's plan for regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

Four years later, the senator remains wary.

"I have great reservations about her," Barrasso told E&E News Tuesday. "She seems to want to write the law rather than apply ... what the legislation happens to be."

If confirmed, she would replace Lisa Jackson, whose push for regulations made her a target of the fossil-fuel industry.

Some in the industry say the Department of Energy should take the lead on climate change.

"It's too easy to vilify the EPA," said David Crane, president and CEO of New Jersey-based power company NRG Energy, at an energy conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this past weekend. He says the fight against climate change should be run through the Department of Energy, not the EPA, given the recent, negative depiction of the agency as bad for the economy. That would shift the responsibility to curb carbon emissions onto Ernest Moniz, Obama's pick to serve as Energy secretary.

In introducing McCarthy and Mr. Moniz at the White House Monday, Obama tried to find a middle ground to describe his nominees. 

“They’re going to be making sure that we’re investing in American energy," he said, "that we’re doing everything that we can to combat the threat of climate change, that we’re going to be creating jobs and economic opportunity in the first place.”

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