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On the Hot Seat: EPA Nominee McCarthy Comes Before Senate Panel

Pete Altman

Posted April 11, 2013 in Curbing Pollution, Environmental Justice, Health and the Environment, Solving Global Warming

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Today President Obama's pick to lead the EPA comes before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to answer questions and persaude the committee members she's fit to lead the EPA. 

As Politico's Morning Energy puts it, "EPA is the Hill's favorite punching bag, and we have it on good authority that McCarthy kind of likes a wicked hahd fight herself."

What better Senate hearing to live-blog than this? So, that's what I'll be doing from start to finish - updating this blog during the course of the hearing, with help from my NRDC colleagues. I'll also be tweeting from @PeteatNRDC using the hashtag #Gina4EPA. 

The hearing is scheduled to begin at 10:30 am ET, and can be viewed on C-SPAN here

NRDC looks forward to Senate confirmation of Gina McCarthy as soon as possible, as NRDC President Frances Beinecke's post Five Reasons to Support Gina McCarthy's Nomination to Lead the EPA makes clear. 

We'll get started once the hearing is underway.

10:36 am: And we're off! While Senators make their opening statements, lets review some of Gina's outstanding qualifications. She has a bi-partisan record of service and consensus-building approach to policymaking that has earned praise from both Republicans and Democrats throughout her career.

For example, former Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell, one of the five Republican Governors under whom Gina McCarthy served, called McCarthy “a dedicated public servant with tremendous talent and passion." Charles Warren, a top EPA official during the Reagan administration, stated, “At EPA, as a regulator, you’re always asking people to do things they don’t want to do. But Gina’s made an effort to reach out to industries while they’re developing regulations. She has a good reputation.”  Jeff Holmstead, the former EPA air chief under George W. Bush, noted that “McCarthy has shown a willingness to listen to and understand industry's legitimate concerns.” 

Before coming to Washington, McCarthy worked as Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection and served as Governor Mitt Romney’s energy and climate advisor in Massachusetts as part of two decades of service in state government.  Her career is a testament to the fact that growing the economy, improving public health, and protecting the environment go hand in hand.  An array of industry leaders and representatives have praised the selection of McCarthy, as have many in the scientific community, such as the six past presidents of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) who sent a letter to the EPW Committee urging support for McCarthy and praising her record of promoting “science-based regulation while demonstrating flexibility in addressing the legitimate concerns of the regulated community.”

10:40 am: Senator Vitter’s attempt to shift the focus from children’s health to e-mail accounts and manufactured controversies shows just how little there is to say.  The central issue today should be how to best protect our children, not red herring arguments that are a mere distraction. GOP Senators have  been beating this dead fish for a while, attempting to make what has been common practice under Republican Presidents into a scandal, as reporter Ken Ward, Jr pointed out recently:

@kenwardjr All 5 concerns raised in 4-10 Senate #GOP letter were practices by Bush admin. too, generated not a #GOP peep in those yrs.

10:50 am: Thanks Senator Warner for restoring the focus to the key point: The central issue today should be how to best protect our children, not red herring arguments that are a mere distraction.   Gina McCarthy is a practiced veteran who has received praise from all corners---she will undoubtedly continue to run the same open, dialogue driven processes she has under 5 Governors and in her current role, while upholding the law.

10:53 am: Top reason to support Gina McCarthy

Gina McCarthy Protects Families from Dangerous Pollution

McCarthy helped establish the EPA’s first-ever national limits on mercury, arsenic, lead, and other dangerous pollution from power plants. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that damages developing brains in children and fetuses. Now dirty coal-fired plants that fought standards for decades will finally have to clean up their act. McCarthy also helped strengthen safeguards against soot pollution. Soot is made up of fine particulate matter released from coal-fired power plants, oil refineries, and cars and trucks. This particulate matter can lodge deep in the lungs and do lasting damage to our respiratory and cardio-vascular systems.

These historic mercury and soot standards will save tens of thousands of American lives, prevent hundreds of thousands of cases of childhood asthma symptoms, and avoid tens of thousands of heart attacks every year, according to the EPA.

10:56 am: Senator Whitehouse praises Gina and the EPA for protecting Americans from mercury pollution. Big achievement: EPA's Mercury Standards for power plants, overseen by #Gina4EPA, will save up to 11,000 lives per year http://1.usa.gov/vuo4z9.

10:59 am: Senator Barrasso just read from his local paper's story about a coal miner who lost his job. But he neglected to point out that the article blames natural gas for coal's woes, according to Miles Grant ‏@MilesGrant2m.

11:05 am: For those who insist on judging the agency responsible for making sure our air is safe to breathe and water safe to drink solely on economic grounds, here's one for you: EPA's Clean Air Act brings benefits up to $90 for each $1 spent, $2 trillion in benefits http://1.usa.gov/eypBDp

11:06 am: Was that Senator Vitter or Big Oil speaking a few minutes ago? Vitter has taken $1,234,924 from oil and gas interests, according to campaign spending data analyzed by Oil Change International

11:07 am: Jim Tankersly, Economic Policy Correspondent at The Washington Post, tweets: 

I've talked to a lot of economists over the last week abt falling labor force participation. Not 1 has mentioned EPA regs as a culprit.

— Jim Tankersley (@jimtankersley) April 11, 2013

11:18 am: James Inhofe: Senator from Oklahoma or KOCHlahoma? 

Top 5 Contributors, 2007-2012, Campaign Cmte (bit.ly/12MdiUD) 

Top 5 Contributors, 2007-2012, Campaign Cmte
Contributor Total
Koch Industries $42,100
Murray Energy $26,100
Robison International $24,000
Devon Energy $21,750
OGE Energy $19,800

 

11:25 am: While we wait for the Senators to return, please enjoy this artwork: 

11:27 am: and while we wait, consider what the Senator from KOCHlahoma focused on in his opening statement: tired polluter talking points, claiming that EPA engages in so-called improper "sue and settle" tactics.  This could not be further from the truth. Consent decrees and settlement agreements are public documents, available for public and Congressional review. EPA primarily enters into these agreements when they have violated the law, and when standards are years, if not decades, overdue. What these Republican critics really want is to block enforcement of federal laws, especially health and safety laws. For an exhaustive rebuttal of this GOP myth, please visit my colleague John Walke's blog at http://bit.ly/SA1V99.

11:31 am: Families around the nation have shared with NRDC their stories of suffering from air pollution.

Eileen's 12-year-old son Daniel almost died from an asthma attack "that left his chest so tight he wasn't even wheezing." Daniel's growth has slowed due to the medications, which are so costly that the family has had to greatly alter their lifestyle in order to afford them. Eileen has to keep the windows of their home closed on most warm days due to the air quality and its impact on Daniel's lungs. Watch the video of Daniel's story or read more about them.

This is why the EPA matters, and why we need Gina running it. 

11:39 am: another family that needs clean air: Amy and her 10-year-old son, mother and grandmother all suffer from asthma. Her grandmother died with a nebulizer in her hand. She spends between $10-15,000 a year out of pocket on asthma medications and treatment. Read more about Amy's family.

11:45 am: The hearing is back on. 

11:50 am: Among Senator Fischer's (R-NE) many complaints about the EPA was the idea that EPA has proposed to expand the Clean Water Act. While we might like to see that, it isn't true.

11:55 am: a few minutes ago Senator Carper made a great point: Courts have rarely overturned the Obama EPA. In contrast, the Bush Administration EPA issued rules that were repeatedly struck down in court as illegal. Gina McCarthy and Obama's EPA inherited this legacy and has been hard at work issuing rules that will protect our nation's health and the environment. For a full examination of the Obama EPA court losses versus the Bush administration's, see my colleague John Walke's blog http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/jwalke/we_focused_on_clean_air.html

12:00 pm: Senator Fischer: We fully agree that transparency and public participation are important to all agency rulemakings. Luckily, this is exactly what EPA, and the Office of Air and Radiation, overseen by Gina McCarthy, does. It's hard to see what Sen, Fischer is complaining about - EPA works with industry, states, and environmental groups. The agency takes public comments on all major standards - receiving over 3 million comments on EPA's standards for carbon pollution from power plants. EPA rulemaking processes are very inclusive, and have resulted in amazing public health achievements

12:02 pm: For those Senators expressing a new-found interest in science: An array of industry leaders and representatives have praised the selection of McCarthy, as have many in the scientific community, such as the six past presidents of American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) who sent a letter to the EPW Committee urging support for McCarthy and praising her record of promoting “science-based regulation while demonstrating flexibility in addressing the legitimate concerns of the regulated community.”

12:11 pm: Senator Session points out that EPA limited mercury, arsenic from boilers, saves up to 8100 lives each year http://1.usa.gov/155Wokz. One of largest sources of toxic air pollution is now cleaner. 

12:13 pm: A few minutes ago Senator Wicker  suggested that EPA is overreaching and might have an agenda to develop numeric nutrient standards for water bodies.  Having numeric targets that protect waters from algae-promoting nitrogen and phosphorus in the nation’s waters is essential, but EPA has unfortunately denied citizens’ petitions to establish limits on the amount of these contaminants.

Senator Wicker also objected to potential “pre-emptive” action by EPA to stop large dumping projects, but this is expressly contemplated by the law. The Clean Water Act authorizes EPA to “veto” a project that fills or destroys protected waters whenever it would have unacceptable impacts.  Acting early lets project developers know before substantial investments of resources have occurred.

12:16 pm: Concerned about EPA economic impacts? Don't be - the benefits of clean air are huge! The CAA has a 40 year track record of generating enormous economic benefits and industry’s chicken-little claims have repeatedly proven wrong. The benefits of the Clean Air Act from 1970 to 1990 total an overwhelming $21.7 trillion from lower mortality, fewer cases of chronic and acute illness, less frequent trips to the hospital, and lost work days. That's good health and good business. 

12:27 pm: Thanks Windows for the unannounced system update. 

12:28 pm: Great opening statement from Gina McCarthy, including recognition of our obligation to protect future generations from climate change. 

12:45 pm: McCarthy and Sanders discuss cost impacts of climate on the US. Climate related disaster alone cost the nation nearly $139 billion in 2012. 

12:46 pm: The Senator from KOCHlahoma tries to jam 3 questions into 5 minutes.

12:48 pm: The Senator from KOCHlahoma is concerned about the EPA's "climate agenda." News flash. 

12:54 pm: Barrasso complains about climate standards, saying Congress hasn't approved that. But just two weeks ago the US Senate voted DOWN Sen Inhofe's attempt to prevent federal agencies from taking action on climate. 

12:55 pm:  McCarthy reminds Senator Vitter her job is to follow the law of the United States.   In fact, the Senate has voted 5 times to reject attempts to stop the Clean Air Act in its track.   Its still the law to reduce carbon and other pollution, and the EPA Administrator needs to uphold the law as confirmed by the Supreme Court.

 

1:06 pm: What exactly do Senators Barasso and Inhofe think that EPA can do in private? To finalize a standard, EPA has to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking, propose a standard, take public comment for at least 30 days (and usually they extend the public comment period to be much longer), and only then can they finalize standards. Communications that EPA has with states, industry groups, environmental groups, and other federal agencies are meticulously documented in the rulemaking docket that accompanies each standard. I'm exhausted just typing this. 

NRDC supports open and transparent government decisionmaking - and the Obama EPA is a great example of such decisionmaking. We also support EPA moving forward with critical standards that will save lives and protect the environment, and that's exactly what Gina McCarthy will do as Administrator of the EPA.

1:07 pm: The SPCC rule calls for responsible management of potentially harmful substances, and sensibly applies to facilities with significant amounts of petroleum products.  As EPA describes the program: “The Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) rule includes requirements for oil spill prevention, preparedness, and response to prevent oil discharges to navigable waters and adjoining shorelines. The rule requires specific facilities to prepare, amend, and implement SPCC Plans.”  Recently, some members of Congress have pushed to delay the application of updated requirements to certain agricultural operations.

  • Oil is no less harmful to waterways and the wildlife that depends on the nation's waters if it happens to be spilled at an agricultural operation.  It is common sense that any facility located such that a spill could reasonably reach waterways and cause harm -- including agricultural facilities -- should take steps to prevent spills and plan to respond to those that occur.
  • Farms already have been given significant flexibility in meeting the SPCC rules.  Farms had an extended period of time to comply with changes to the applicable rules; other facilities have been subject to these requirements since 2010 or 2011, whereas farms with the requisite amounts of oil products onsite are due to comply this May.  The rules also provide flexibility in developing plans for certain operations with smaller storage volumes and a good history with respect to spills.  And, if farms experience hardship in meeting the May deadline, individual extensions are possible.

1:09 pm: I'm looking forward to hearing the question, from anyone on the dais: Ms. McCarthy, what can we do to help the EPA do more to make sure the air is safe to breathe, the water is safe to drink and children don't suffer from brain-damaging chemical exposures before they are even born or grown up? 

1:17 pm: Here's a highlight of the diverse support for Gina McCarthy:

Gina McCarthy: Effective Environmentalist, Scientific Public Servant, and Respected Regulator

Gina McCarthy has served in federal and state government for over 25 years, including a stint as Governor Romney’s energy and climate advisor in Massachusetts. McCarthy has worked closely with environmental advocates and with industry leaders and has earned the trust of both sides of the aisle as a fair and competent public servant:

  • Scott Segal, a lawyer with Bracewell & Giuliani, a Houston law firm that represents energy companies: “Gina McCarthy is engaging, effective and willing to listen to the regulated community — even if we don’t always agree with her final rules.”
  • William Becker, head of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies: “She’s brutally honest, very fair, humorous, and an incredibly hard worker. She’s not an ideologue. She’s a practitioner.”
  • Jodi Rell, former Republican Governor of Connecticut: “Her leadership on climate issues is nationally respected, so it comes as no surprise that the Obama administration would reach out to Commissioner McCarthy, a dedicated public servant with tremendous talent and passion.”
  • Gloria Berquist, vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers: “She’s a pragmatic policymaker. She has aspirational environmental goals, but she accepts real-world economics.”
  • John McManus, American Electric Power’s vice president of environmental services: “My sense is that Gina is listening, has an open mind, she wants to hear the concerns of the regulated sector.”
  • Charles Warren, a top EPA official in the Reagan administration who now represents industries at the firm Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel: “At EPA, as a regulator, you’re always asking people to do things they don’t want to do. But Gina’s made an effort to reach out to industries while they’re developing regulations. She has a good reputation.”
  • Jeff Holmstead, former EPA air chief under George W. Bush: “McCarthy has shown a willingness to listen to and understand industry’s legitimate concerns.”
  •  

     
  • Donna Harman, president and chief executive of the American Forest and Paper Association:“She’s very data- and fact-driven, and that’s been helpful for us as well as the entire business community. It doesn’t mean I always got what I was looking for, but we can have a dialogue.”

     
  • AAAS Past Presidents Endorse Gina McCarthy for EPA: “She has served with distinction under two Republican Governors as Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Regulation under then-Governor Jodi Rell, and as climate and energy advisor to then-Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. Rell called her a “dedicated public servant with tremendous talent and passion.’”

  • Tim Leljedal, Southern Company: “We’ve known Gina McCarthy for years, we’ve had a great, constructive relationship with her and we look forward to working with her. I think she is a great pick.”
  • American Automotive Policy Council: “Upon confirmation, we look forward to continuing to work with Gina McCarthy. She has demonstrated a willingness to consider the views of those impacted by the agency she has been nominated to lead, and to find practical solutions to issues facing the automobile industry.”

 

1:30 my colleague Jon Devine notes: 

In response to Sen. Fischer’s grandstanding about EPA providing information to environmental groups under the Freedom of Information Act, it’s important first to know that confined animals generate approximately 500 million tons of manure every year, which is more than three times the amount of human waste produced, and which gets nowhere near the same kind of pollution control treatment.  The waste generated by CAFOs can pose significant threats.

The very short version of the FOIA dispute is this.  Several years ago, EPA agreed to initiate an effort to get a handle on the industry’s true risks to water, by proposing to collect some basic operating information from CAFOs.  When EPA later abandoned this promising effort in favor of asking state agencies to share the information they might have about these facilities.  Concerned that these data would be incomplete and inconsistent, and also dedicated to shedding light on this industry, NRDC filed a FOIA request to obtain and review the information EPA had collected.  EPA provided this information in response to our legal request. 

In response to livestock industry concerns, EPA decided to review the disclosed material to see if some information should’ve been withheld.  Our groups agreed to EPA’s request not to disseminate the material during the review and then complied with EPA’s request to return material EPA requested back.  NRDC has no interest in people’s private information and this political dust-up about it has distracted from the underlying important issue of the lack of information about an industry with a huge waste stream. 

1:35 pm: Boxer closes the hearing by asking McCarthy to swear to protect Americans and uphold the law. And we're out!


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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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