WASHINGTON, July 9, 2015 – EPA administrator Gina McCarthy was on the hot seat on Capitol Hill Thursday as Republicans on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology peppered her with questions on her agency’s regulatory record.
Targets at the nearly three-hour long hearing were chiefly the agency’s waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule – now deemed the Clean Water Rule – and the proposed Clean Power Plan. Members also had questions about McCarthy’s text messages, communications between a former employee with environmental groups, and the state of committee document requests, with the underlying theme of agency overreach.
At one point McCarthy received encouragement from Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Texas Democrat and the committee’s ranking member, who said she shouldn’t let the “investigative theater” of the hearing get to her.
Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, used his line of questioning to press McCarthy on why EPA had not fully complied with committee document requests related to the science used in forming regulations such as WOTUS and the Clean Power Plan. He said the committee had to resort to issuing its first subpoena in 21 years to obtain some of the documents, and that agency’s actions suggested the administration has “something to hide.”
“To me, this just continues a pattern of obstruction that we’ve been seeing for a couple of years now,” Smith said. He said the fact that McCarthy couldn’t put an estimated date on the delivery of the rest of the requested documents was “disappointing,” but she asserted that conversations between EPA and committee staff were ongoing to determine exactly what documents the panel was looking for.
McCarthy said since the beginning of the year, the agency has submitted over 15,000 pages of documents in 13 responses to the panel’s 10 written requests and one subpoena. However, Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., later showed a picture of one of the pages that revealed very little text, referring to the documentation as “incoherent garbage.”
Smith also took issue with the deletion of almost 6,000 text messages from McCarthy’s official cell phone and the claim that only one or two of the text messages – which McCarthy saved for proper documentation – was official business, repeatedly calling the claim “laughable.” McCarthy stood by her action, saying most of the texts were personal in nature, joking that her texting habits began when her children wouldn’t return her phone calls. She said when the texts were work-related, it was typically correspondence such as notifying someone that she would be late for a meeting, which is not required to be catalogued or documented in the same way as official correspondence.
Perhaps the most commonly used buzz word by both McCarthy and the lawmaker posing the questions was “transparency;” members pushed for a greater degree of it and McCarthy reiterated her commitment to it. Smith and other members were calling on not only the findings of the studies used in the development of some rules, but the raw data used in those same scientific studies.
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“I do not know what value raw data is to the general public, but I certainly will provide any information that I have the authority to provide and I’ll do it in a way that still protects people’s interests and the work of our agency,” McCarthy said.
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