Gina McCarthy confirmed as head of EPA

The U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of Gina McCarthy as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, after more than 130 days of procedural gridlock

The U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of Gina McCarthy as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, after about 130 days of procedural gridlock.

In mid-afternoon July 17, the Senate voted 69-31 to close debate on McCarthy's nomination, clearing the way for a vote of 59-40 to confirm. President Barack Obama nominated the Boston native in March 2013.

McCarthy will head the EPA at a time when the lack of a comprehensive energy policy from Congress has made the task of regulating greenhouse gases a regulatory matter rather than a legislative one.

Under questioning by the Senate during her confirmation hearings, McCarthy said coal-fired power would continue to be a part of the U.S. generation mix.

"Coal has been and will continue to be a significant source of energy in the United States, and I take my job seriously when developing those standards to provide flexibility in the rules," she said.

McCarthy's comments came shortly before the April 13 deadline for the EPA to finalize its New Source Performance Standard, which, as it is currently written, would restrict emissions to 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide for new power plants.

McCarthy's tenure will also be marked by a time of increased use of natural gas and declining coal use — a trend that some blame on federal regulations and others say is a result of low natural gas prices.

Dave McCurdy, president and CEO of the American Gas Association, said in a statement that recent EPA estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from the natural gas industry have been dramatically reduced.

"Gina McCarthy and I have a constructive working relationship based on open and honest dialogue that will continue as we work towards the shared goal of improving the data available on the environmental impact of natural gas. The natural gas industry is actively engaged in a fact-based dialogue about building a clean and secure energy future for our nation," McCurdy said.

Edison Electric Institute President Tom Kuhn congratulated McCarthy on her Senate confirmation, adding that EEI worked with her in her previous position as administrator for the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation where she served since 2009.

“A number of significant electric power industry issues are on EPA’s regulatory agenda right now, including the pending Section 316(b) rule for cooling water intake structures, coal ash regulations, and new source performance standards for new and existing power plants. As these rulemakings proceed, I am pleased EPA now has in place a permanent Administrator. Gina’s confirmation and experience bring greater certainty to the agency at this critical time," Kuhn said.

Mike Duncan, president and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, said the ACCCE agreed with McCarthy that coal has a part to play in America's energy future.

"ACCCE looks forward to a constructive working relationship with the EPA under Administrator McCarthy’s leadership. Coal fuels nearly 40% of America’s electricity, and it will continue to play a vital role in our nation’s energy future," Duncan said in a statement. “To date, the coal-fueled electricity industry has invested more than $110 billion in technologies that have reduced emissions by nearly 90 percent. The industry will invest another $100 billion to develop clean coal technology over the next 15 years. We are hopeful that Administrator McCarthy’s tenure at EPA will set the agency on a more balanced path that recognizes America’s continued need for coal and the importance of clean coal technology.”

Before her nomination, she was as environmental policy adviser to then-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and launched the state's first Climate Protection Action Plan. EPA deputy administrator Bob Perciasepe served as the EPA's acting administrator in the interim.

Lisa Jackson, nominated in Obama's first term, announced her departure December 27, 2012.

Jackson put the EPA's first standards on mercury emissions into effect and enacted rules on fine particulate pollution. These regulations primarily concerned power plants to be built in the future. The question of how stringently to regulate the nation's existing fleet of power plants is as of yet unsettled, and will likely fall to McCarthy.

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