This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: WASHINGTON – When U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt announced that he planned to block President Barack Obama’s nominee for the nation’s top environmental job, he couched his opposition in terms of a controversial flood-control project in Missouri’s Bootheel.
But Blunt’s “hold” on Gina McCarthy, nominated to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, dovetails with a much wider Senate Republican strategy, including a boycott of her committee approval until she responds to more than 1,000 questions – in an effort to scuttle her nomination.
That GOP campaign against McCarthy – a high-level EPA official who has served four GOP governors, including Mitt Romney, in various positions – includes heated opposition by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and aggressive delaying tactics by the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La.
“This attack on Gina McCarthy is inexplicable given that she was previously confirmed by the Senate for a top EPA position without a single recorded ‘no’ vote, and she is one of the most qualified and bipartisan nominees to ever come before the Senate,” complained U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who chairs the Senate environment panel.
But McConnell dug in, explaining that McCarthy “would continue to foster this administration’s radical environmental and anti-coal jobs agenda,” which he contends would affect the 18,000 Kentuckians involved in coal mining.
The McCarthy controversy came to a head last Thursday when every GOP member of the Senate environment panel boycotted a committee session during which McCarthy’s nomination was scheduled to be approved.
Angered by the unusual tactic, Boxer has called another committee session for this Thursday, making public her letter to Vitter complaining that, as of Thursday, “this nomination will have been delayed at your request for four weeks. It is time to move forward with her nomination.”
Blunt, the fifth-ranking Senate Republican, is not on the committee but said he is determined to block a Senate vote on McCarthy’s nomination over a single issue: the dispute between the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers about the revised environmental impact statement on the long-delayed St. John’s Bayou/New Madrid Floodway project in southeast Missouri.
“I’m holding this nomination until the government stops arguing with the government,” Blunt said late last week, saying that his Senate “hold” is entirely related to the Bootheel dispute.
“I’m not calling on the Obama administration to spend a dime or to build a thing. All these agencies have to do is agree on the facts surrounding a very long-standing project – and two months after their own self-imposed deadline, they’re still caught up in bureaucratic infighting.”
Blunt’s position, popular among residents along the floodway – which Blunt visited last week – was criticized by environmental groups as yet another GOP ploy to try to scuttle McCarthy’s nomination. The overriding issue, environmental groups say, is McCarthy’s work over the last four years as the head of EPA’s air pollution regulation efforts.
Those regulations, unpopular among many Republicans, utility firms and some manufacturers, are part of the Obama administration's attempt to contain emissions of toxic mercury from power plants and some gases that affect the global climate.
“Her nomination is being politicized by senators who prioritize the interests of polluters over the interests of America’s public health,” asserted Miles Grant, senior communications manager at the National Wildlife Federation, which supports McCarthy.
He said GOP attempts to scuttle McCarthy’s nomination are parallel to their expected campaign against the administration’s finalizing of the industrial carbon pollution rule in the coming weeks. That rule is based on a law that was passed by Congress, signed by a GOP president years ago and approved by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Senate Republicans “can’t win through the democratic process, so they’re trying to gum up the works however they can,” Grant said in an interview. Boxer called McCarthy “the poster child of Republican obstructionism” on environmental issues.
Boxer has threatened to pass McCarthy’s nomination out of committee using only Democratic votes, if necessary, but she might not have enough votes if ailing U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., is unable to attend Thursday’s committee meeting.
Even if the full Senate eventually takes up the McCarthy nomination, it is unclear whether supporters would be able to muster the 60 votes needed to override a possible GOP filibuster threat and confirm her to lead the EPA. On Tuesday, McCarthy was scheduled to meet with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the second-ranking Senate Democrat, and some other senators.
GOP leaders blamed the Obama administration for the McCarthy delay because the White House and EPA have so far declined to answer some of the 1,000-odd questions that Republican senators have asked McCarthy to answer. McConnell has said those include numerous questions about the “underlying data” that the EPA used in developing emissions regulations.
“It should come as no surprise that the Obama administration continues to stonewall reasonable information requests from Republicans” on the environment pabel, McConnell said in a statement. He said such responses are crucial to the “advise and consent role” of GOP senators in considering the nomination.