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July 11, 2013
McCarthy vote may be near

Senator David Vitter, the environmental leader of Senate Republicans, has dropped his opposition to allowing the Senate to vote on President Obama’s nomination of Gina McCarthy to be the next EPA administrator.  In May, McCarthy was approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) in a party line 10-8 vote. 

Republicans on the committee then requested that McCarthy answer over 1,000 questions.   Vitter, EPW’s ranking member, said the Agency was not providing adequate answers to just five of those questions and added that he would block a floor vote on McCarthy until he received satisfactory answers. 

On Tuesday, July 9, Vitter announced that the updated answers to four of his five questions amount to receiving “historic agreements” from the EPA.

“These are huge, significant steps forward to bringing transparency to the agency,” said Vitter, “and I see no further reason to block Gina McCarthy’s nomination, and I’ll support moving to an up-or-down vote on her nomination.”  

The floor vote on McCarthy is not assured since Missouri’s Senator Roy Blunt is threatening to block it unless three federal agencies, including the EPA, take a critical step in moving forward on a flood prevention project in southeast Missouri.

Four out of five

According to Vitter, the EPA has now committed to:

  • Retraining EPA’s more than 17,000 employees on records management under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to ensure that certain groups are not treated differently because of their political ideology.  This commitment also addresses the use of personal e-mail accounts to conduct government business.
  • Initiating a process of obtaining requested scientific information.  According to Vitter, this will for the first time allow lawmakers to determine if there is any way of independently re-analyzing EPA’s science and benefits claims for a suite of major air regulations.
  • Launching a process to convene an independent panel of economic experts with experience in whole economy modeling at the macro and micro level to review EPA’s modeling and ability to measure full regulatory impacts.  The panel would make recommendations to the Agency.
  • Publishing on two websites notices-of-intent-to-sue the Agency and petitions for rulemaking.  The intent here is to bring to public attention to “back-door” sue-and-settle agreements Republicans believe the EPA has reached with environmental groups that sue the Agency, which then settles out of court by agreeing to undertake actions that have not been developed through standard negotiations with all stakeholders. 

Vitter says that discussions with the EPA on the fifth item, which involves EPA’s provision of other documents, are ongoing.

Missing DEIS

Senator Blunt’s potential interference with a floor vote on McCarthy stems from a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) on the St. Johns Bayou and New Madrid Floodway Project, which, according to Blunt, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is late in publishing.  The project would close a 1,500-foot gap in a levee to protect surrounding farmland and Missouri towns from flooding.

Both the EPA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are providing the Corps with information needed to complete the DEIS.  Blunt’s main concern is that the DEIS is being held up because the three agencies cannot agree on the size of the wetlands that will be impacted by the project and, therefore, the level of mitigation that will be needed.  Environmentalists have raised concerns that the project will destroy fish habitat. 

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