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EPA pick aligns with climate change focus of administration

Mar. 04, 2013 @ 11:35 PM

WASHINGTON -- President Obama signaled his willingness to tackle climate change with his pick of Gina McCarthy to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, one of three major appointments he made Monday.

A 25-year veteran of environmental policy and politics, McCarthy has worked for Republicans and Democrats, including Obama's presidential rival, Mitt Romney, who tapped her to help draft state plans for curbing the pollution linked to global warming. Along with McCarthy, Obama nominated MIT nuclear physicist Ernie Moniz to lead the Energy Department and West Virginia native Sylvia Mathews Burwell to head the budget office.

McCarthy, 58, a Boston native, has led the EPA's air pollution division since 2009, ushering in a host of new rules targeting air pollution from power plants, automobiles, and oil and gas production.

In nominating McCarthy as the nation's top environmental official, Obama is promoting a climate change champion at a time when he has renewed his commitment to address global warming and the agency is contemplating a host of new rules that could help achieve that. But McCarthy will have to balance the administration's ambitions with a dwindling budget: Congress has cut EPA's budget by 18 percent over the last two years, and the automatic budget cuts that went into effect Friday will hinder the agency's energy efficiency programs and climate research.

Moniz, as head of MIT's Energy Initiative, has worked on developing ways to produce power while curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

"They're going to be making sure we're investing in American energy, that we're doing everything we can to combat the threat of climate change, that we're going to be creating jobs and economic opportunity," Obama said.

Already, McCarthy has orchestrated many of the agency's most controversial new rules, such as placing the first-ever limits on greenhouse gases on newly built power plants and a long-overdue standard to control toxic mercury pollution from burning coal for electricity. On her plate, should she be confirmed by the Senate, will be even more rules -- from lowering sulfur emissions from gasoline to controlling global warming pollution from the older coal-fired power plants.

Like those regulations, her nomination is all but guaranteed to spark criticism from Republicans, who charge that the agency is killing jobs and undermining the coal industry. Environmentalists, meanwhile, will be looking to ensure that McCarthy issues the toughest rules possible, particularly when it comes to controlling emissions from the existing fleet of power plants.

Despite the partisanship in Washington, McCarthy has said the environment is a non-partisan issue, saying that the choice "doesn't have to be, 'Can I have a job or can I breathe clean air."'

But she hasn't backed down when politicians have falsely portrayed her agency's work, such as suggesting EPA was poised to regulate cow flatulence to combat climate change and was looking to go after farmers for spilling milk.

"When I listen to their concerns, I am struck by the fact that what they think we are often doing bears little or no relationship to what we are actually doing," she said in testimony before Congress in April 2011.

Last year, the American Petroleum Institute praised an EPA rule for which she was responsible because it gave drillers two additional years to curb pollution from recently drilled oil and gas wells.

At the state level, McCarthy pressed for federal action to reduce greenhouse gases and was a key player in setting up the nation's first mandatory cap-and-trade system to reduce global warming pollution from power plants in 10 states. As head of Connecticut's environmental department, she is credited with convincing Republican Gov. Jodi Rell not to abolish a 10-state regional pact, even as other Republicans, including Romney, pulled out.

Environmentalists praised the nomination on Monday, stressing her pragmatic approach to solving environmental problems and her ability to work with both parties.

But conservatives immediately stressed her role in what they view would as destructive policies from EPA.

"McCarthy will continue the regulatory attack on oil, coal and natural gas with the result that Americans will experience increasing energy costs and high unemployment rates," said Thomas Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, a conservative think tank that receives some support from the fossil fuel industry.

Quotes

"I am disappointed, but not surprised, that President Obama has decided to double down on his job killing policies by nominating Gina McCarthy as EPA Administrator. Ms. McCarthy was the force behind many of the anti-coal regulations issued by this administration, including the CSAPR rule that was struck down as unlawful by a federal appeals court."

U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

"I believe the country would have benefited greatly from an outside voice at EPA rather than an Agency insider. I hope that Ms. McCarthy brings an understanding of the need for balance in our energy policies but should she chart the same harmful regulatory course as the previous Administrator, I will to fight to the maximum degree against such an ideologically driven agenda that is contrary to the will of Congress, public opinion, and our country's economic well-being."

U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.

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