President Obama hasn't nominated U.S. EPA air chief Gina McCarthy to be the agency's next administrator, but EPA friends and foes alike sure are acting as though it's a done deal.
Both groups agree on one thing: If Obama picks McCarthy -- a straight-talking former state regulator and leader of the EPA office responsible for recent high-impact rules for limiting greenhouse gases and air toxics from power plants -- he's hellbent on plowing ahead with aggressive environmental regulations in his second term.
"For those who were in doubt, the president's decision to replace Lisa Jackson with Gina McCarthy allays all concern," said Benjamin Cole of the American Energy Alliance, a pro-industry advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.
"The EPA will continue its anti-fossil-fuel crusade undeterred, and the administration will continue to avoid normal democratic means to legislate the president's climate change agenda through the regulatory agencies," he continued, adding that the changing of the guard would have as little effect on EPA's agenda and outlook as when Cuban President Fidel Castro "passed the hammer and sickle to his little brother Raul."
Bill Wilson, president of the conservative Americans for Limited Government, also issued a pre-emptive news release accusing McCarthy of a "desire to tell people and companies how they must conduct their business."
The group repeated the argument by EPA foes that the agency is moving ahead with regulations without statutory authority and that it is collaborating with "radical environmentalists" to quickly settle enforcement lawsuits.
"This agency is simply too powerful, and operates outside the law," Wilson concluded.
The statements are a preview of the push-back McCarthy is likely to get from congressional Republicans if she is nominated and goes through a Senate confirmation process. The Senate has never voted to reject a nominee for EPA administrator, but Wilson urged senators to reject McCarthy.
"Given Obama's State of the Union threat to continue to pursue unilateral executive actions in lieu of climate change legislation, no nominee to the EPA should be confirmed," he said.
Wilson went on to say that by blocking the nomination, senators could ensure that "bureaucrats" would have to "answer for the destruction they are wreaking on the U.S. economy" through regulation.
If the Senate doesn't confirm an EPA nominee, acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe could remain in his post for months or even years, and it would have no effect on EPA's ability to propose or finalize rules, environmentalists say.
"Of course some senators will go after her," said Bill Becker of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies.
But Becker said those shots would have nothing to do with McCarthy personally but with the president whose policy priorities she is carrying out.
"She doesn't make policy in a vacuum," Becker said. "She meets with stakeholders, works with other federal agencies and she gets support from the White House. If there's concern expressed about the administration's climate change program, opponents should raise it with the White House, not with Gina."
Greens agree that McCarthy's likely nomination means Obama plans to deliver for the environment during the next four years.
"I think it's a signal that the EPA's going to remain very focused and proactive in its mission, and that is protecting health and the environment," said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch.
It would mean the agency moves to finalize a greenhouse gas rule for new power plants and to propose ones for existing plants, O'Donnell said.
The Supreme Court's landmark climate change decision -- 2007's Massachusetts v. EPA -- required the agency to consider regulating heat-trapping emissions under the Clean Air Act if they are deemed a risk to public health. And last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld EPA's finding that greenhouse gases endanger public health.
Environmental Working Group Executive Director Heather White said Obama picking McCarthy would mean the administration had chosen to move forward with controls on toxic chemicals and to push Congress to overhaul the Toxic Substances Control Act.
The rise of McCarthy would also have implications for EPA's 17,000 employees.
A source familiar with EPA said McCarthy got "mixed reviews" from staffers but did get rave reviews from people who worked for her when she ran state regulatory agencies in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
But Jeff Ruch, president of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said McCarthy had not always been a champion for staff who worked under her.
The group opposed McCarthy's nomination in 2005 to head the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, arguing that during her tenure as head regulator in Massachusetts, the commonwealth had the highest number of out-of-date permits for major pollution sources of any New England state, persistently poor water quality and a failing toxics control program.
"In addition to the rising environmental failings in Massachusetts, PEER is raising concerns about union busting, gag orders to silence staff, and increasing politicization of permitting and enforcement decisions by the Mitt Romney Administration," the advocacy group said in a 2005 news release.
Kyla Bennett of PEER said that the former Republican governor's office required state employees to clear all external communications with it and that its environmental agency gave major polluters a pass on updating their permits on a regular basis.
Bennett agreed that McCarthy was not responsible personally responsible for that culture but said she was complicit because she stayed.
"I would like somebody who is strong both environmentally and for the employees, and I don't think she's the right person just given her checkered history," she said.
But McCarthy's supporters say her time under Romney and Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell, also a Republican, will serve her well at EPA.
"That means she will provide a bipartisan luster to the administration's efforts to fight climate change," said Daniel Weiss, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
Reporter Jason Plautz contributed.
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