EPA nominee cites 'deteriorating' relationship with agriculture
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WASHINGTON, April 11, 2013- President Obama's nominee for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator, Gina McCarthy, discussed the EPA's “deteriorating” relationship with agriculture during her confirmation hearing today before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
McCarthy served as assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Air and Radiation since June 2009. The committee's chairwoman, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., called McCarthy “one of the most qualified nominees ever to come before this committee.”
However, several Republicans on the committee, including ranking member David Vitter, R-La., questioned “the severe lack of transparency” from the EPA. Several times, senators brought up former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson's alias email account she used to conduct EPA business.
Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., specifically discussed EPA's rocky relationship with agriculture. She said she receives “calls and letters every day from Nebraska farmers” concerned about EPA's Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure rule.
Under the SPCC rule, farmers need spill prevention plans if an oil spill from their farms could reach a water of the United States. The FY 2013 continuing resolution contained language delaying enforcement of SPCC rules for agriculture for 180 days. Fischer asked McCarthy if she would support a more permanent solution that “would help ease these regulatory burdens.”
Although not speaking specifically on the SPCC rule, McCarthy said, “I think the agency has bridges to build with the agricultural community.”
Fischer referenced a meeting she held with McCarthy on the topic of the relationship between the EPA and agriculture earlier this week. “Farmers and ranchers have become increasingly frustrated with a bureaucracy that doesn't seem to understand the nature of our business,” Fischer said.
She cited EPA's release of animal operations data to environmental organizations earlier this year.
“I know that there is great concern that the information went out,” McCarthy said. “I understand that concern and will do everything to make sure those errors are not repeated.”
On whether the EPA would commit to scrapping plans for a national database of concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) data, McCarthy said she is not familiar with the plans, but would “continue the path forward that the acting administrator has taken to get that information back.”
“I know just how hard the farming community protects their resources and I want to make sure we have the opportunity to change the relationship between that community and EPA,” McCarthy said.
Earlier during the hearing, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., expressed concerns about EPA's regulatory reach, particularly for domestic fossil fuel industries. “Americans want energy independence and we have the opportunity to have that. We now know we have the resources and we've got to develop those resources,” he said.
Inhofe said the regulations from the EPA “have had the most damaging effects” on the United States' efforts to become energy independent.
On natural gas extraction, or fracking, McCarthy said in her opening statement, “During these past four years, one of the most dramatic and potentially beneficial changes that our energy markets and overall economy has seen has come in the steep growth in the production and use of natural gas, thanks especially to the widespread use of hydraulic fracturing.”
She said EPA's air pollution standards on emissions from hydraulically “fracked” natural gas production wells “adopted the best practices already in use by leading companies and states.”
Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., said the criticism aimed at McCarthy is “really a debate about global warming and whether or not we are going to listen to the leading scientists of this country, who are telling us that global warming is the most serious planetary crisis that we face.”
While most leading Democrats on the committee supported McCarthy for her actions in EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, leading Republicans said emissions standards and air toxic rules issued under the administration burden several industries, especially coal.
“I'm not sure if the nominee is aware of how many folks that have lost their jobs because of the EPA,” quipped Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., while describing regulatory impacts on the coal industry.
However, Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., reiterated his colleagues' stances that enforcing clean air standards produce multiple economic health benefits. He also told McCarthy, “You have a reputation of being honest, open and transparent. That's the type of administrator we need.”
“We're going to have our differences,” he said of his fellow senators. “But there are more differences among members of this committee than with the witness before us.”
Prior to her current position, McCarthy served as the commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. She was also deputy secretary of Operations for the Massachusetts Office of Commonwealth Development, an agency that coordinates policies and programs of the state's environmental, transportation, energy and housing agencies. That program was created by then Republican Gov. Mitt Romney.
In her current position, McCarthy has been involved in a number of biofuel-related issues, such as the agency's approval of E15, the investigation and handling of fraudulent renewable identification numbers and annual implementation of the renewable fuels standard.
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