Photo by the Associated Press
The Senate confirmed Gina McCarthy on Thursday to head the Environmental Protection Agency, helping the agency move forward on President Obama's climate change plan.
McCarthy, who has led the EPA's air pollution office since 2009, was approved 59-40 -- only hours after the Senate also approved Thomas Perez as secretary of Labor. Nominated by Obama on March 4, McCarthy replaces Lisa Jackson, who left the agency in February.
Democrats touted McCarthy as a veteran environmental champion, but Republicans had held up her confirmation, saying she helped craft regulations that are costly to business. Earlier this week, GOP members agreed to allow votes on some nominees as long as Democrats didn't squelch the Senate tradition of filibustering, which the minority uses to block legislation.
"After the longest wait in history to confirm an EPA administrator, it's encouraging to see the Senate finally ending the gridlock by voting to confirm Gina McCarthy, a more-than-qualified nominee," Carol Browner, former EPA administrator under President Clinton and now senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, said in a statement.
McCarthy is expected to play a pivotal role in Obama's plan to fight climate change, which the president unveiled last month. Obama is calling for limits on heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions from both existing and new power plants -- restrictions that will mostly affect coal-fired plants. As the EPA's senior air regulator, McCarthy oversaw rules to reduce mercury and soot pollution from power plants.
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., urged fellow Republicans to vote against McCarthy's nomination, saying during the debate that EPA's "overreach has been historic."
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, whose state is a major coal producer, was the only Democrat to vote against her confirmation.
"My fight is not with her," he said in a statement. "My fight is with President Obama and the EPA, the regulatory agency that has consistently placed unreasonable regulations and unobtainable standards on energy production."
McCarthy's supporters say she knows how to work across the political aisle. They note that prior to joining the EPA, she served as a state environmental official in New England, working for both Democratic and Republican governors including 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Perez, a child of Dominican immigrants and one-time trash collector, was approved on a party-line 54-46 vote.
"Tom has lived the American dream himself and has dedicated his career to keeping it within reach for hardworking families across the country," Obama said in a statement released by the White House.
For the past four years, Perez has led the Justice Department's civil rights division. He has won praise from Democrats for aggressive enforcement of voting rights and other laws but drawn criticism from Republicans, who view him as a liberal ideologue.