After unprecedented scrutiny and delay, the Senate voted 59-40 today to confirm Gina McCarthy as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. This followed an unprecedented 136 days since President Obama first nominated McCarthy for the post and 1,000+ questions from Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. McCarthy previously served as EPA assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, and with Republican and Democratic governors in state environmental agencies.
The delay in confirming McCarthy was a result of Republicans fundamentally opposing, “the mission of the agency: EPA, which protects the water we drink and the air we breathe,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). Republican opposition was finally overcome Tuesday, when Reid struck a deal that avoided a change to Senate rules in exchange for confirmation of pending appointees.
Today’s confirmation vote is important because McCarthy will be leading a critical agency at a critical time for the climate. Congressional intransigence means much of President Obama’s ambitious climate plan will be implemented through EPA regulation. Obama will direct the EPA to set limits on carbon production by power plants, the single largest domestic source of climate pollution. The EPA currently regulates pollutants like mercury and other toxic chemicals, and a 2007 Supreme Court case empowered the EPA to do the same on carbon pollution. The Natural Resources Defense Council found that EPA standards and state-based compliance systems could achieve three quarters of the 17 percent reduction goal.
In this way, no new laws would be required to cut US greenhouse gas pollution to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
Confirming Gina McCarthy to the EPA will not solve the climate crisis or by itself ensure that we cut carbon pollution. But the agency that has the court-granted authority to respond to the global threat of our time now has a climate hawk at the helm, and she has clear instructions from the President to implement his climate action plan.