EPA air office chief Gina McCarthy is said to be President Obama's likely nominee to replace outgoing agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, according to press reports, which could spur a contentious Senate confirmation process given McCarthy's leading role in crafting EPA's climate rules and other contentious air quality measures.
Obama is "leaning toward" selecting McCarthy to run EPA in the president's second term, according to a Feb. 1 Reuters article though the sources quoted say that Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe is also in the running.
During an exclusive Jan. 18 interview with Inside EPA, McCarthy sidestepped a question on whether she is interested in being the next agency administrator. "The only thing I can tell you is that for four years I have had the great pleasure of working for Lisa Jackson who I consider to be just an extraordinary leader, administrator and individual. She's still here. I'm going to keep working for her as long as she is here and then I'll turn my attention to the future," she said.
In the same interview, she also downplayed prospects for speedy action on pending EPA climate rules.
That could cause concern from top Senate Democrats, who recently wrote to Obama urging him to ensure the next EPA chief will focus heavily on air and climate change issues. In a Jan. 29 letter to Obama, which was signed by several key committee chairs, the Democrats said the EPA nominee must be "another strong leader . . . who will work to craft bold solutions to these serious problems, as well as enforce the Clean Air Act and our other landmark laws that protect public health."
One environmentalist said the letter was intended to support Mary Nichols, the chair of the California Air Resources Board. In addition to McCarthy, other candidates said to be under consideration as the next EPA administrator are former Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D), and former Pennsylvania environment secretary Kathleen McGinty.
Given the president's strong support for addressing climate change, any EPA nominee is likely to face heat over climate and other policy measures. But unlike some of the other names said to be under consideration, McCarthy has served in state governments in Massachusetts and Connecticut for both Democratic and Republican governors, including then Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA), which could help temper some criticism and may make McCarthy less of a lightning rod than Nichols.
If the president selects McCarthy it could also help him rebut criticism about a lack of diversity in his cabinet after he was faulted for selecting white men for several key posts, including former Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) as the next Secretary of State, former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) as defense secretary and Jacob Lew as treasury secretary.
In response to claims of a lack of diversity in his second term appointments, Obama at a Jan. 14 press conference said, "I'm very proud that in the first four years we had as diverse if not more diverse a White House and a cabinet than any in history and I intend to continue that. . . . Until you've seen what my overall team looks like, it's premature to assume that somehow we're going backwards. . . . We're not going backwards, we're going forward."
McCarthy has been EPA air chief since winning Senate confirmation in 2009, and has overseen the agency's vehicle fuel economy and greenhouse gas (GHG) rules, and the "tailoring" rule establishing first-time GHG permitting requirements for industrial sources. As head of the Office of Air & Radiation (OAR), McCarthy is also overseeing work on the agency's proposed climate new source performance standards (NSPS) to limit GHGs from new power plants.
OAR was also responsible under McCarthy's watch for crafting the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), an emissions trading program to reduce interstate air transport of power plants' criteria pollutants. A federal appeals court recently rejected EPA's bid for rehearing of a ruling vacating CSAPR, leaving Supreme Court appeal as the agency's only remaining option to preserve the rule.
EPA's air rules have drawn attacks from Republicans and industry groups for imposing massive costs on the economy, but McCarthy has repeatedly defended the agency's air and climate regulations.
For example, at a June 19 EPA clean air panel hearing on the agency's oil and gas drilling sector air rule, McCarthy said in response to GOP criticism of the rule, "We used the best data currently available. We will continue to work with stakeholders to understand their concerns. . . . But what we're really talking about is: how good is the rule? Is it good, or really good?"
EPA recently sought a stay of litigation over the drilling sector air rule in order to review and likely grant some industry requests for reconsideration of key provisions.
The open top slot at EPA is one of several top energy and environment positions that are vacant for the president's second term. In addition to EPA, the administration must also fill open slots at the Departments of Energy and Interior. Top slots at the Departments of Transportation and Commerce, which have some environmental oversight, are also open.