By Darren Goode
For four years, Republican critics treated EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson as a human punching bag — a job-killing regulation machine who used a fake email address while serving at the forefront of President Barack Obama’s drive to throttle greenhouse gases.
Get ready for Round 2.
As Obama made it official Monday that he’s handing the agency’s reins to one of Jackson’s top lieutenants, some conservatives made it clear that nominee Gina McCarthy represents more of the same.
McCarthy brings bipartisan credentials to the job — including her past work as an environmental regulator under then-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. But for the past four years, she has headed EPA’s air regulation efforts, a bulwark of the Obama administration’s efforts to restrain climate-changing gases, toxic mercury from power plants and pollution from vehicles’ tailpipes. And that makes her nomination the likely start of a larger proxy fight over the president’s second-term climate agenda.
“Gina McCarthy’s nomination to head the EPA sends a clear message that the president’s plan is to encumber the economy with rising energy costs, rather than encouraging growth in the energy sector to help bring costs down,” said a statement Monday from one conservative group, the Independent Women's Forum.
Another conservative group, the American Energy Alliance, likened both Jackson and McCarthy to the Castro brothers in a statement last month, predicting that “The EPA will look as different under Gina McCarthy as Cuba looked when Uncle Fidel passed the hammer and sickle to his little brother Raul.”
“It is a shame the president continues to put his extreme partisan agenda ahead of jobs and energy security in West Virginia and across the country,” said Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), a champion of the coal industry, in a statement Monday. She said she is “disappointed but not surprised” by McCarthy’s selection.
At the same time, there were no immediate signs of an industry-backed groundswell to derail McCarthy’s confirmation. Leading advocates for the petroleum, mining and coal-fired power industries issued restrained statements either congratulating her or praising her for working with them on past regulations.
On the other hand, veteran industry lobbyist Scott Segal said even business groups that don’t like EPA’s agenda often find themselves liking McCarthy’s style, including her willingness to change pending regulations based on their input.
“Of course, we often disagree with the final rules that have been advanced under McCarthy’s watch,” said Segal, who works at the firm Bracewell & Giuliani. But he added, “What many in industry appreciate about her style is her directness and openness to engagement with the regulated community."
“Almost every large EPA rule has errors — both in policy and methodology,” he said. “McCarthy listens and allows for the possibility of midcourse corrections.”
In announcing her nomination Monday, Obama highlighted McCarthy's "reputation as a straight shooter" who takes in differing opinions.
The president also reiterated that tackling climate change is one of his top priorities.
John McManus, vice president for environmental services at American Electric Power — a major critic of EPA — said his company’s experience with McCarthy has been “mixed.”
While EPA in Obama’s first term has drawn up regulations that significantly impinge on coal-fired power plants, McCarthy “has always been willing to engage in a dialogue with the industry to understand our concerns,” McManus said.
He added, “We’re certainly not going to challenge” her nomination. But he said the company would like to see senators “ask her what she has in mind” about how she plans to tackle greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard said he hopes McCarthy “shares the president’s stated vision for an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy strategy and will support only sound EPA regulations that reduce potential adverse impacts on employment and energy costs while protecting the environment.”
The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity was also cautious on McCarthy, saying it hopes for a “more constructive working relationship with the EPA under her leadership.”
The McCarthy selection came as little surprise following weeks of chatter that had her as the favorite for the job.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski — one of several lawmakers who had been hearing McCarthy’s name for weeks — has told POLITICO she’s unhappy with how difficult it was for Shell to get Arctic offshore drilling permits from McCarthy’s EPA air office.
“She has been very much an EPA bureaucrat and that’s made it difficult on some of the issues we work on,” Murkowski said, although the Alaska Republican stopped short of threatening to block her nomination.
Before being confirmed as administrator of the EPA air office during the president’s first term, McCarthy was commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection under then-Republican Gov. Jodi Rell. She also held key spots in Romney’s administration, where she played a crucial role in the Massachusetts Republican’s climate protection action plan to combat global warming.
McCarthy also created a climate action plan for Rell in Connecticut.
While McCarthy has often ruffled Republicans while testifying on Capitol Hill, she has a reputation for being both raucously funny and a formidable force. McCarthy has previously attributed both of those attributes to her South Boston Irish Catholic roots — something that’s evident to most people when she speaks in an accent that has survived her time in Connecticut and Washington.
In March 2009, Obama — to whom McCarthy had donated money in 2008 — nominated her as assistant administrator for air and radiation at EPA.
It wasn’t smooth sailing, however. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) held up her nomination for two months based on his anticipation of EPA’s plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.
But McCarthy had heavy-hitting support too: Four big-name senators submitted testimony supporting her at her April 2009 confirmation hearing — Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).
Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) lauded McCarthy at the time as someone with “a unique record of accomplishment in addressing air pollution — including global warming pollution — at the state level in Massachusetts and Connecticut.”
She’s still a fan. More recently, Boxer said of a possible McCarthy nomination: “I think she’d be great. She is strong. She’s knowledgeable. She, there would be no transition required, and I just like Gina because she’s straight from the shoulder — good person.”
Kerry’s 2009 testimony centered on the challenges of climate change and McCarthy’s ability to meet those head-on.
“President Obama has promised to make climate change one of his top initiatives,” Kerry testified. “His choice of Gina is an important step in making good on that promise.”
Kerry said then that he couldn’t “wait to work with her at the EPA to keep the energy and excitement flowing to ensure the long-term health of our global environment. We’ve got no time to waste — and we need Gina at the helm.”
Dodd credited McCarthy with being “one of the driving forces” behind the creation of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a mandatory cap-and-trade program involving 10 states in the Northeast. (The number of participating states has since dropped to nine.)
“Across my state, she has a well-deserved reputation for her boundless energy, incredible passion and determination, and willingness to speak frankly in order to address challenges head on,” Dodd said.
Barrasso’s concern was largely how the administration would limit its greenhouse gas regulations — a question answered by the agency’s “Tailoring Rule,” which was roundly upheld by a federal appeals court last summer, along with the agency’s decision to regulate greenhouse gases and other subsequent regulations.
McCarthy’s nomination was passed out of committee with the supporting vote of Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who has denounced global warming as a “hoax.” Inhofe told POLITICO recently that he doesn’t expect an Obama administration nominee to agree with him on climate change, adding that it falls within the president’s prerogative in nominating his Cabinet.
Barrasso removed the hold in June 2009 but not until after McCarthy missed the White House Rose Garden announcement of the first-ever national greenhouse gas emission standards for cars and trucks. She reportedly wasn’t happy about that.
Several Senate Republicans have already pointed to possible issues that could lead to holds on her nomination.
Murkowski wants more answers on EPA air permits for Shell’s offshore drilling efforts in Alaska. Senate Environment and Public Works ranking member David Vitter (R-La.) is smarting from ignored information requests on several issues, and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) is reportedly considering putting a hold on the next EPA administrator nominee over a delayed flood control project in his state.
This article first appeared on POLITICO Pro at 6:53 a.m. on March 4, 2013.