Gina McCarthy’s confirmation to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency puts the former Republican aide in charge of developing wide-ranging climate- change rules that business group oppose.
McCarthy, as the agency’s assistant administrator, had directed clean-air rulemaking in President Barack Obama’s first term, forcing coal-fired power plants to curb mercury emissions, imposing new standards on boilers in paper mills and setting limits on pollution from cement plants. She will write the first rules limiting carbon emissions from power plants.
"Gina’s confirmation and experience bring greater certainty to the agency at this critical time," Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute, a Washington-based group representing utilities, said in a statement after the 59- 40 vote yesterday. "Gina has a keen understanding of the challenges facing our industry, and we have had a long and constructive relationship."
The Senate separately yesterday confirmed Thomas Perez to lead the Labor Department, where he has pledged to enforce laws on overtime pay. Perez will help push Obama’s agenda on issues including rewriting immigration law and raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour from $7.25.
Perez, 51, was confirmed 54-46, without Republican support.
The Senate moved to confirm stalled Obama nominees this week after legislative leaders resolved a dispute that included a threat by Democrats to strip the minority party’s right to stage a filibuster and block executive-branch nominees. The Senate will consider five nominees to the National Labor Relations Board next week.
McCarthy, 59, is a 25-year veteran of state and local government in New England, where she worked for Republicans including former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
"She’s worked for four Republican governors and the last Republican candidate for president," Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee told reporters before the vote. "We’re not likely to get a Democratic head of the Environmental Protection Agency who’s got a record any better than that."
With a strong Boston accent, short shock of white hair and disarming sense of humor, McCarthy won the praise of environmentalists, who largely support the administration’s efforts, and industry groups, which have fought them.
"What many in industry appreciate about her style is her directness and openness to engagement," Scott Segal, a lawyer representing power producers and oil refiners at Bracewell & Giuliani LLP, said when she was nominated in March. While utilities or coal producers may object to the regulation, "McCarthy listens and allows for the possibility of midcourse corrections," he said.