McCarthy EPA Hearing: GOP Senators Focused On Climate Denial, Email, And IM

Republicans tried and failed to pin anything on Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, Gina McCarthy. When she appeared before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee as President Obama’s nominee to be the next EPA Administrator, some Senators focused on substance, and others focused on denying climate change or asking about email addresses and instant messenger.

First some reality. Echoed by several of his colleagues, Senator Bernie Sanders’s opening statement broke through the rhetoric and clarified the debate over McCarthy, EPA, and climate change. After hearing Senator Barrasso’s hyperbolic opening statement about “extreme emissions rules” and the “war on coal” (in fact, the industry is growing under President Obama), he cut to the chase.

This is not a debate about Gina McCarthy. Senator Barrasso made it very clear what this debate is about. It is a debate about global warming, and whether or not we are going to listen to the leading scientists of this country who are telling us that global warming is the most serious planetary crisis that we and the global community face — and whether we are going to address that crisis in a serious manner.

And in essence what Senator Barrasso has just said is “no” — he does not want the EPA to do that. He does not want the EPA to listen to science. What he wants is us to continue doing as little as possible, as we see extreme weather disturbances, drought, floods, and heat waves all over the world take place. So let me go on record as saying I want the EPA to be vigorous in protecting our children and future generations from the horrendous crisis that we face, from global warming.

Across the dais, the rhetoric had a different focus. Senator Boozman said that he is an optometrist by trade, and is therefore “familiar with the scientific world.” He used this familiarity to question EPA data release and personal confidentiality practices. McCarthy politely answered his question with a promise to ensure he had all the data he needed, ostensibly to run climate models on his own time.

Several GOP Senators focused their questions on transparency, particularly the ongoing debate over secondary email addresses used by past EPA Administrators. As Chairwoman Boxer noted, the practice of having a secondary email address was started by EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman because Administrators can get up to 41,000 emails per day. Even so, McCarthy stated she has never used her personal account for official EPA business.

In fact, when Senator David Vitter asked her about her use of instant messenger, she replied that one of the things about being 58 is that she has no idea how to use IM. A large portion of many GOP Senators’ questioning revolved around these irrelevant email issues, instead of cleaning up the environment, climate change, or air pollution.

No hearing about the EPA would be complete without some denial of climate change, and while Senator Inhofe certainly did his best to fill that role, Senator Sessions stood out in terms of the substance and the condescending manner in which he asked whether it was really getting warmer.

Sessions asks McCarthy to refute an article in the Economist about climate sensitivity — Sessions uses the article to say there has been no warming in the last 15 years. McCarthy very smartly said that she is not a climate scientist, she was not familiar with the article, and she would be very happy to work with those that are to get him an answer. Scientists know that the world continues to warm and readers of the Economist should know that climate sensitivity is not the same as projected future warming.

McCarthy has already gained bipartisan and industry praise.

  • Jodi Rell, former GOP Governor of Conneticut, said: “Her leadership on climate issues is nationally respected, so it comes as no surprise that the Obama administration would reach out to Commissioner McCarthy, a dedicated public servant with tremendous talent and passion.”
  • Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning said: “I think she’s a great pick. I’ve already chatted with her, and I look forward to the years ahead with her.”
  • Donna Harman, who is President and CEO of the American Forest and Paper Association, said: “She’s very data- and fact-driven, and that’s been helpful for us as well as the entire business community… It doesn’t mean I always got what I was looking for, but we can have a dialogue.”
  • Gloria Berquist, Vice President of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said: “She’s a pragmatic policymaker. She has aspirational environmental goals, but she accepts real-world economics.”
  • John McManus, the VP of environmental services at coal-hungry American Electric Power, said: “Early on, Gina brought us in to talk about the rules. We talked about timing, technology, and cost. My sense is that Gina is listening, has an open mind; she wants to hear the concerns of the regulated sector.”

It is no surprise that the GOP Senators at the hearing tried their best to throw a wrench into her nomination process — according to data from, these six Senators collectively received $4.2 million from the oil and gas industry. It is also no surprise that they failed to make any of their attacks stick.