Most of the biggest challenges facing the Environmental Protection Agency — climate change, major new regulations on power plant emissions, biofuels production and enforcement of clean air and water laws — were virtually absent from Thursday’s confirmation hearing for President Obama’s nominee to head the agency, Gina McCarthy.
Instead, Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee repeatedly returned to relatively arcane disputes over e-mail accounts used by top officials at the agency, whether the department had made public all the research data used in writing past regulations and whether it had pursued a litigation strategy that bypassed state environmental officials.
Ms. McCarthy, 58, is currently director of the agency’s Office of Air and Radiation and has had limited responsibilities in the areas singled out by Republicans on the committee. Unlike Mr. Obama’s recently departed E.P.A. administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, and several other predecessors, Ms. McCarthy did not have a second agency e-mail account under an alias or use a private e-mail account to help weed out the hundreds of thousands of unsolicited e-mails that pour in each year.
Republicans have been pursuing the use of secondary e-mail accounts and aliases at the agency since last year, calling it an effort by officials to evade federal open records laws. The E.P.A.’s inspector general has opened an inquiry into the matter.
(Ms. Jackson used “Richard Windsor” for her alias on a second e-mail account, after a New Jersey township where she lived and her family dog. Christie Whitman, the E.P.A. administrator under President George W. Bush, used “ToWhit.” And Marcus Peacock, a former deputy administrator, used “Tofu.”)
Although Ms. McCarthy did not have a second agency e-mail account or an alias, Senator David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana, the panel’s senior Republican, nonetheless demanded whether she had ever used a personal e-mail account to conduct agency business. She said she occasionally e-mailed agency documents to her personal account so she could have access to them at her family home in Boston. But she insisted she had stored nothing official in that account and that all documents had been returned to agency files and were discoverable under the Freedom of Information Act and the Federal Records Act.
Mr. Vitter followed up. “Have you ever used E.P.A. instant messaging accounts?”
Ms. McCarthy replied, “One good thing about being 58 is I don’t even know how to use them.”
Senator Bernard Sanders, independent of Vermont, tried to turn the hearing into a seminar on global warming but few of his colleagues on either side of the aisle were willing to engage.
“Really, this is not a debate about Gina McCarthy,” Mr. Sanders said in his opening remarks. “It is a debate about global warming and whether or not we’re going to listen to leading scientists who are telling us that global warming is the most serious planetary crisis that we and the global community face and whether we’re going to face that crisis in a serious manner.”
He noted that a Republican colleague on the panel, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, had declared that global warming was “one of the major hoaxes ever perpetrated on the American people by Al Gore, the United Nations and the Hollywood elite.”
At that point, violating Senate protocol, Mr. Inhofe piped up to say, “I’d add to that list MoveOn.org, George Soros, Michael Moore and a few others.”
Later, Ms. McCarthy, a former state environmental regulator under Republican and Democratic governors in Connecticut and Massachusetts, including Mitt Romney, said that the science supporting global warming was overwhelming. She said that the E.P.A. would continue to address climate change under her leadership through what she described as common-sense regulations.
The committee has not scheduled a vote on Ms. McCarthy’s nomination.
Courtesy NY Times