Great news for supporters of public health: Gina McCarthy was confirmed as the new EPA administrator last Thursday with a 59-40 vote in the Senate! However, this seemingly uncontroversial and qualified nominee’s confirmation comes after much ado, mostly caused by our very own Senator David Vitter, resulting in the longest-ever wait period (136 days) for an EPA nominee.
From the beginning of her nomination, she was praised by environmentalists and industry groups alike for her ability to reach agreements that protected public health, the environment, and the economy. Even Senator Mary Landrieu, known for leaving her party’s platform to occupy the oil and gas industry’s pocket, said she has “honestly gotten nothing but positive comments back from the industry groups in Louisiana on Gina McCarthy.”
After McCarthy finally got through the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee after a vote boycott led by Sen. Vitter, she moved to the Senate floor where she was greeted by the ever-dramatic filibuster, led by David because of issues he had with the EPA. The filibuster ended with a cloture vote of 69-31 with the help of 16 Republicans. Apparently Sen. Vitter had a change of heart after meeting with the EPA, which resolved some concerns he had about transparency, because he came out against the filibuster a week before her confirmation, thereby just about guaranteeing her confirmation.
This case heated up the broader fight over filibuster rules in the Senate on executive branch nominees. Senate Dems throughout this process have been talking about changing the Senate rules to require a simple majority vote to confirm presidential nominees. Some Senators noted that McCarthy’s nomination was a push for keeping the Senate filibuster rules as they are; without needing a cloture vote to end it, there’s no cause to have those one-on-one conversations between those with concerns and the nominee.
Ms. McCarthy’s nomination marks more than a new administrator, but a new relationship between the EPA and the Republican party, who has been resistant to some of EPA’s efforts to protect public health. Even Republicans who voted against her noted that they now felt like they could work with her to reach successful conclusions. While they saw her as qualified, they voted against her in their opposition to the EPA itself.
McCarthy has proven her ability to gain bipartisan support, having served under five Republican governors (including Mitt Romney) and gained support from industry reps and Senators who aren’t typically favor of the EPA. With McCarthy’s ability to reach win-win solutions, I have high hopes that she will be able to effectively gain support for EPA’s initiatives to protect our public health and environment.