Washington –- President Obama’s decision to press for new clean air regulations this week dealt another blow to the already troubled nomination of former Connecticut environmental chief Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency.
Senate Republicans have already blocked McCarthy from a confirmation vote. Their opposition makes it tough to find the 60 votes needed to move the nomination forward.
Now Democrats from coal-producing states are under pressure to abandon McCarthy, too.
The reason: Obama this week said he would use executive powers to limit the carbon dioxide that power plants could emit, and he ordered the EPA to draft tough new emission regulations.
“By announcing imminent restrictions on carbon emissions from power plants … this administration will impose bureaucratic mandates with no regard for the people and communities of West Virginia that depend on coal and the inexpensive energy it creates for their very existence and survival,” said Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association.
In his speech on the dangers of climate change, Obama also urged the Senate to confirm McCarthy.
“It didn’t help,” said Jonathan Kott, communications director for Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
Jason Bostik, vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, also said the president’s actions this week “certainly did not help [McCarthy] at all.”
The coal industry is lobbying Manchin; Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.; and other Democrats on the issues of climate change and McCarthy.
This is just the latest bit of trouble for the prospective appointee.
For weeks her nomination has been held up by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who says he’ll block the nomination until he gets an update on an Army Corps of Engineers project to repair a levee on the Mississippi River system.
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., has also threatened to put a hold on the nomination because he says McCarthy has not fully addressed questions he posed to her during her nomination hearing in April.
Republican Sen. John Barrasso, whose home state of Wyoming produces the most coal of any state in the nation, suggested McCarthy had lied during her confirmation hearing in April about the agency’s plans to regulate existing power plants.
“The agency is not currently developing any existing source of greenhouse gas regulations for power plants,” McCarthy said several times.
Barrasso said, “either she was ignorant about what’s going on at EPA, a place where she’s been an assistant director for the last four years, or she is arrogant. Either way, I think this tarnishes her chances of being approved by the Senate, tarnishes her nomination.”
But McCarthy could have been correct. The EPA may not have been told by the White House at that time it was ready for the agency to develop greenhouse gas regulations.
As Connecticut’s environmental chief during Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s administration, 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.
Before working for Rell, McCarthy held key spots in the administration of another Republican, that of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Her bipartisanship would have, under normal circumstances, helped her.
But 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.
Manik Roy, vice president for strategic outreach for the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, said Obama moved forward on the new clean air regulations without regard to how it would impact McCarthy.
“He felt Gina’s nomination was not a reason for delaying the decision,” Roy said.
He said he believes the president decided in the last few weeks to address the issue. Obama was under pressure by an April notice from 12 states, including Connecticut, that they intended to sue the EPA for its failure to develop new clean air regulations mandated by the Clean Air Act and a Supreme Court decision.
If McCarthy is not confirmed, it would be the first time in the EPA’s 40-year history that a nominee to head the agency was shot down.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has not set a date, but Roy thinks a confirmation vote will be scheduled in July.
He said votes against the nominee would not be personal.
“She is an excellent administrator of the president’s agenda,” Roy said. “The votes against her will be, for the most part, people voting against the president’s agenda.”
If McCarthy’s nomination fails to get the required 60 votes, it would likely be rescinded by the White House.