Environmentalists target McCain & Portman on EPA vote (video)

The Sierra Club on Wednesday became the latest group to take to the airwaves with a campaign aimed at convincing some Republicans to confirm Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency — or at least not stand in her way.

In ads running over the next two weeks, the environmental group is targeting three senators : Ohio Republican Rob Portman and Arizona Republicans John McCain and Jeff Flake. The 30-second clips highlight average voters’ sour view on the nation’s capital as a place mired in partisan bickering but suggest a vote for McCarthy is a chance “to get Washington moving again” and install a leader who will “protect our air and water from dangerous pollution.”

“Gina McCarthy . . . is a smart, highly qualified and bipartisan nominee who deserves support from both sides of the aisle,” said Melinda Pierce, public policy director for the Sierra Club. “Sens. Portman, McCain and Flake have the chance to prove they can break through the gridlock and partisanship by supporting her nomination.”

Portman is among the targets of a separate pro-McCarthy ad campaign launched Tuesday by the American Sustainable Business Council Action Fund. That group is running commercials touting small business support for McCarthy in Ohio, New Hampshire and Maine, aimed at Portman, Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., Susan Collins, R-Maine and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.

And the Environmental Defense Fund went on the air in May with a television advertisement highlighting the praise McCarthy has won from “business leaders and experts.”

The aggressive push comes ahead of a possible Senate debate as soon as next week on the nomination, amid vigorous opposition from some key Republicans who oppose air pollution policies McCarthy helped develop as head of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation during the past four years.

At her confirmation hearing and in later written answers to questions from Environment and Public Works Committee members, McCarthy also insisted the EPA has not been developing any greenhouse gas regulations for existing power plants — an assurance that some Republicans said was undermined when Obama made such mandates the cornerstone of a climate change plan announced last week.

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Republican senators also have been leveraging McCarthy’s nomination to push for government documents and data that would shed light on the agency’s approach to writing regulations. Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that oversees the EPA, has asked for information on the agency’s assessment of health risks from air pollution, denial of permits to a coal-fired power plant proposed in Corpus Christi, and a missed deadline for publishing the agency’s regulatory plans. Vitter says the EPA has not responded  sufficiently to his requests for the regulatory information nor assuaged his concerns about the agency’s transparency.

Separately, Republican Sen. Roy Blunt has placed a hold on McCarthy’s nomination because of concerns about a stalled levee proposal in his home state of Missouri.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who heads the Environment and Public Works Committee, has said she expects to make a major push for McCarthy’s confirmation.

For Boxer and other Democratic leaders, a major challenge is convincing Republicans not to filibuster the nomination in the first place; it takes 60 votes to end such prolonged debate and move to a vote. Absent a filibuster, Senate leaders are aiming to win enough Republican “ayes” to make up for possible “no” votes from a few Democratic members.