Obama nominates Gina McCarthy as new EPA chief

Official EPA portrait, Wikipedia Commons/Public Domain

President Obama nominated Gina McCarthy as the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones notes her influential role during Obama's first term under outgoing administrator, Lisa Jackson:

As the assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, McCarthy has helped implement a raft of new or improved national standards for pollutants such as mercury, sulfur and nitrogen oxide emissions, and soot, and she oversaw the first-ever limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants.

"Every American is—or will soon be—breathing cleaner air because of McCarthy," says Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch.

Brad Plumer writes at Wonkblog that McCarthy could be Obama's most significant cabinet nominee:

McCarthy will face a huge number of regulatory decisions in the upcoming term — many of them required under the Clean Air Act. And, with Congress deadlocked, it’s likely that many of these EPA rules will be the only action the Obama administration takes on global warming this term.

Plumer goes on to lay out the areas McCarthy's EPA will be able to progress on environmental and climate issues.

She's no tree hugger, notes Russell McClendon at Mother Nature Network (TreeHugger's sister site):

In an essay for the 2004 book "The Irish Face in America," McCarthy argued humans are part of the environment, suggesting it's in our own best interest to save natural habitats. "People who are environmentally friendly are not competing with growth," she wrote. "I'm not a tree hugger. I'm a people hugger, concerned with people's need for clean air and water."

The Washington Post has a good profile of McCarthy, including reactions to the nomination from both environmental groups and members of the chemical and fossil fuel industries.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said Obama “could not have picked a more qualified person to lead EPA at this critical time.”

Rebecca Leber at Climate Progress lists "Seven Unlikely Supporters" of McCarthy's nomination:

Over her two-decade career, McCarthy has drawn unusual praise from Republican and energy industry admirers — a tough feat at an agency that is often the polluters and their allies’ favorite target.

Inside Climate News looks back at some of McCarthy's past speeches and notes her pragmatic approach to regulation:

"I think we do a disservice to the people that we service if all we look at is our next step rather than the direction we're trying to head."

She said that meant taking a comprehensive approach to managing greenhouse gases. "I honestly believe that we can achieve significant climate change reductions by taking the same actions you would want to take to reduce air pollution in general," she said.

Quoted in the New York Times, Michael A. Levi, a climate and energy fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations also notes McCarthy's pragmatic style:

“Putting it all together,” Mr. Levi said, “it appears to reinforce the president’s stated desire to push forward on a variety of different fronts. These are not people who want to use a club casually. They are not about to use rigid regulations to try to force deep changes in the U.S. economy, but they are also people who want to do big things.”

Ken Ward Jr. at the West Virginia Gazette's Coal Tattoo also notes the relatively calm reaction to her nomination from the coal industry:


Susie Cagle at Grist says McCarthy's pragmatic approach could could ruffle feathers on both sides of the environmental policy debate:

McCarthy has a history of climate action, but also a history of supporting natural gas and oil drilling à la Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy. Industry is a little uncomfortable with McCarthy because of her cozy relationships with environmental causes, but some environmentalists question McCarthy’s cozy relationships with industry.

This might make her an effective EPA administrator or it might make her a lightning rod for congressional climate-denialist craziness. Or both! But it seems the brash Bostonite will ruffle some feathers either way.

Tags: Environmental Policy | EPA