EPA Nominee’s Hearing Is Just the Opening Act for GOP

Alex Brandon/AP

The Obama administration and Senate Republicans face off in a high-drama clash over global warming on Thursday, as the president’s choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency undergoes questioning by the committee considering her nomination.

Gina McCarthy, a tough-talking environmental regulator from South Boston who is currently EPA’s top clean-air official, expects a grilling from Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, including a trio of conservatives from oil and coal states who have made no secret of their animosity toward President Obama’s environmental agenda.

McCarthy’s confirmation hearing sets the stage for a drama that will play out over the course of Obama’s second term. The president has made clear he wants action on global warming to be a cornerstone of his legacy, but it is a goal the fossil-fuel industry views as a threat to its very existence.

In his February State of the Union speech, Obama said that if Congress won’t pass climate-change legislation—a virtual certainty given the partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill—then his administration will do as much as it can using its existing authority. One likely course of action will be to have EPA mandate cuts in air pollution from coal-fired power plants and oil refineries.

That would make McCarthy the regulator most responsible for developing and implementing new climate-change rules—and put her in the crosshairs of the industries that would have to comply.

McCarthy’s hearing will also represent a return to the spotlight for Sen. David Vitter, R-La., the Environment and Public Works Committee’s new ranking member. Vitter has kept a relatively low profile since 2007, when it was revealed that his phone number had appeared on the call list of “D.C. Madam” Deborah Jeane Palfrey. But in his new position on the panel, Vitter will be the tip of the Republican spear trying to puncture one of the president’s top priorities.

Since the beginning of the year, Vitter has signaled his intent to come out against McCarthy with guns blazing. He has sent out a slew of letters and press releases slamming her and EPA, including a release Friday describing the agency’s “regulatory onslaught” and “garbage can of regulations and failures.”

Backing up Vitter will be the panel’s second-ranking Republican, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who has famously called global warming a “hoax.”

Also pressing McCarthy will be GOP Sen. John Barrasso, who represents Wyoming, the top coal-producing state.

“I think ... the EPA during the Obama administration has been failing ... American taxpayers and American workers,” Barrasso told National Journal Daily. He added, “The president is going to use presidential powers when he can’t get his radical environmental agenda passed legislatively, [and I’m going] to use every effort to block ... administrative efforts to go around the legislative process.”

People close to McCarthy, who is experienced at appearing before Congress, say they expect her to hold her ground in the face of the onslaught.

“She is very grounded and seasoned; she knows what’s coming,” said Carol Browner, the EPA administrator during the Clinton administration who also was Obama’s senior adviser on energy and climate during his first term.

But even with a contentious hearing, senior Republican aides say McCarthy will probably win a narrow Senate confirmation. The meatier action will play out in the coming years, if her agency does roll out climate regulations. It’s expected that Senate Republicans will then use the Congressional Review Act – a law which allows Congress to block Cabinet regulations – to fight the rules. 

“The real bite at the apple will be the [Congressional Review Act],” said Browner. “All of this is a preview. This is just the opening act.”

This article appeared in the Thursday, April 11, 2013 edition of National Journal Daily.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

    Download
  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

    Download
  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

    Download
  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

    Download
  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

    Download
  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

    Download
  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.