Washington — Gina McCarthy’s success in pushing power companies in Connecticut to curb greenhouse gases is expected to come under scrutiny when the Senate takes up her nomination to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
President Obama’s choice to head the EPA was Connecticut’s environmental chief during Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s administration. As such McCarthy helped create the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which allows power companies in New England and the Mid-Atlantic to sell emissions allowances if they invest the money from those sales in clean energy.
The initiative was supported by Rell and some fellow GOP governors. But it is opposed by others, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who pulled his state from the regional pact.
That initiative, and other work McCarthy has done in Washington, will be put under the microscope during her confirmation hearing in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
After she was confirmed in 2009 as the EPA administrator in charge of air quality, McCarthy shaped some of the agency’s most contentious rules, including emissions regulations for new cars and power plants and air pollution standards for oil and gas drilling.
Keith Gaby, spokesman for the Environmental Defense Fund, said McCarthy will face tough questioning, but ultimately win confirmation.
“She can clearly do the job,” Gaby said. “She’s made friends among environmentalists — and among industry.”
On Monday, national environmental groups hailed McCarthy’s nomination to fill the position of outgoing EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.
“She’s a good listener, a straight shooter and someone who has what it takes to build consensus and find solutions,” said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We can count on her to protect our environment and our health.”
But McCarthy also has her detractors.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, held up her confirmation for months in 2009, and threatens to do so again.
“I have serious concerns about how the current EPA operates. We can’t afford another administrator who bypasses Congress and rolls out more red tape that discourages job creation,” he said. “I’m going to take a very close look at Ms. McCarthy’s experience at the EPA and her vision for the agency.”
The top Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, said McCarthy “has been very much an EPA bureaucrat, and that’s made it difficult on some of the issues we work on.”
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., has also spoken out against McCarthy, questioning the science behind some of the decisions she has made.
John Walke, clean air director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said some senators “may make political points” regarding McCarthy’s nomination.
“Some will be ideological,” based on McCarthy’s work on clean air issues, Walke said. “There will also be parochial concerns by individual senators concerned about projects in their states.”
Before working for Rell, McCarthy held key spots in former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s administration.
Gaby hopes the bipartisanship on McCarthy’s resume helps during her confirmation hearing.
Another good thing for McCarthy: No industry has slammed her nomination. Instead, industries with business before the EPA said they hoped McCarthy would be sensitive to their concerns.
“We definitely want to work with her,” said Sabrina Fang, spokeswoman for the American Petroleum Institute. “We don’t have anything against the nominee, we’re more focused on policy.”
Connecticut’s lawmakers Monday praised Obama’s choice.
“Here in New England, protecting the environment isn’t a partisan issue, and Gina’s work embodies the best of that long tradition — one that she has ably continued in Washington,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. “She’s a tough, principled fighter.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., called McCarthy “an environmental protector for all seasons.”
“She recognizes the need to sometimes strike a balance between environmental activism and economic growth – but that the two are more commonly mutually supportive,” he said.
If confirmed, McCarthy would face tough environmental issues in Obama’s second term, including pressures to do more about greenhouse gases and to increase regulations on a process known as fracking, which is the injection of fluid into the ground at high pressure to fracture shale rocks and extract natural gas.