July 18, 2013 9:49 pm

McCarthy confirmed as EPA chair

Gina McCarthy was confirmed as the new administrator of the US’s Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday afternoon, 154 days after her predecessor stepped down.

The Senate voted 59 to 40 to confirm Ms McCarthy as head of the EPA after Republicans held up her appointment for months – leaving the environmental agency without a leader for the longest stretch in its history. Conservatives object to President Barack Obama’s efforts to use the agency to regulate carbon emissions.

Republicans had been threatening to block Ms McCarthy’s nomination to show their opposition to the EPA’s “job killing” policies, leading Democratic leaders in the Senate to delay the vote until after an emotionally-charged immigration reform bill was passed so that they could devote their energies to winning over sceptical senators.

A Boston native, Ms McCarthy is an environmental scientist and veteran civil servant who has worked under five Republican governors – including Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for president last year, while he led Massachusetts – and has been the EPA’s assistant administrator responsible for the clean air division since 2009.

She will now become the standard-bearer of President Barack Obama’s ambitious three-part plan to deal with climate change.

With no prospect of Congress passing legislation to deal with global warming, Mr Obama has vowed to use the power of his office to impose regulations, through the EPA, limiting the greenhouse gases that the US emits.

One of her first tasks will be to finalise a new rule for carbon pollution emissions from new coal-fired power plants, and to formulate an equivalent rule for existing plants. The coal industry says that the regulations are aimed to stopping coal from being used in any plants.

She will also oversee the introduction of new fuel standards for trucks, similar to the ones it instituted last year for cars, aimed to sharply increase their efficiency and cut carbon emissions.

The EPA is also set to issue new rules on emissions of methane and other pollutants from landfills, and to introduce new standards for refrigerants used in automobile air conditioning units, part of a broader effort to limit the impact of refrigerant chemicals on the environment.

The agency is also likely to propose a new standard for smog missions within the next year. The EPA, under previous administrator Lisa Jackson, proposed cutting the limits from the Bush-era 0.075 parts per million standard to between 0.06 and 0.07 ppm, but the White House blocked the change. The agency is due to propose a new standard and analysts suggest it could push for the tougher 0.06 ppm limit.

Mr Obama last month outlined a strategy to cut the US’s carbon pollution by reducing emissions from coal-fired power plants; to prepare the US for the impact of climate change, such as the superstorm that ravaged the New Jersey coastline last year; and to lead the world by example in combating the changing climate.

Ms McCarthy’s appointment was one of a batch of cabinet-level nominees secured by the Obama administration under the terms of a last-minute deal to avoid a partisan showdown in the US Senate over a contentious reform of the chamber’s operations.

Mr Obama welcomed Ms McCarthy’s confirmation.

“With years of experience at the state and local level, Gina is a proven leader who knows how to build bipartisan support for commonsense environmental solutions that protect the health and safety of our kids while promoting economic growth,” he said in a statement.

Environmentalists also expressed relief she had finally been confirmed.

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