Climate speech puts EPA nomination in further peril

President Barack Obama wasn’t doing Gina McCarthy any favors by rolling out a big plan for combating climate change.

Instead, the president may have just delivered a fatal blow to his nomination of McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

McCarthy’s EPA candidacy was already in question, as Republican senators push for government documents and data that would shed light on the agency’s approach to writing regulations. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, says the EPA has not sufficiently responded to his requests for the regulatory information, nor assuaged his concerns about the agency’s transparency.

The new problem centers around McCarthy’s repeated assurances to the panel that the EPA has not been developing any greenhouse gas regulations for existing power plants. McCarthy heads the air pollution office at EPA that would play the lead role on such rules.

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The centerpiece of Obama’s climate change plan is tasking the EPA with drafting those regulations, along with rewriting an earlier proposal aimed at reining in carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants. And while that doesn’t mean the EPA has been covertly working on rules for existing power plants already, it certainly doesn’t help McCarthy win votes among the plan’s critics.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said Obama’s high-profile climate change speech on Wednesday hurts McCarthy’s chances.

“The president made the decision to give this speech,” Barrasso said. “And I think it has an impact on her nomination.”

Until Obama’s speech, some of McCarthy’s supporters on Capitol Hill had been trying to defuse the politics surrounding her nomination by keeping relatively quiet on climate change and environmental regulations.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who heads the environment panel, previously has said she will aggressively push for a Senate vote on McCarthy’s nomination after a congressional recess in early July.

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If McCarthy’s nomination were to fail or she were to withdraw her candidacy for the top EPA job, a possible replacement could be the current acting administrator, Bob Perciasepe. “He has a long history there,” Barrasso noted, “and he’d get some votes.”

Perciasepe’s most recent tenure at the EPA began four years ago, when he became the deputy administrator. But he also ran the air and water programs two separate times under former President Clinton.

Previously, Perciasepe was the chief operating officer at the National Audubon Society.