Senate Republicans Block Committee Vote on Obama EPA Nominee

Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee blocked a vote on confirming Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency by boycotting a meeting called to consider the nomination.

Louisiana Senator David Vitter said today the agency hasn’t answered all the party’s questions, and none of the eight Republicans attended the meeting scheduled this morning. Committee rules require two minority-party members or all majority-party members be present and voting for action.

“I am stunned that this happened,” said Senator Barbara Boxer of California, the chairman, who vowed to schedule a time for a vote, even if Republicans continue to refuse to participate. “This is outrageous.”

It is the second time Senate Republicans blocked committee action on a nomination by President Barack Obama in 24 hours. Yesterday, a party member invoked an infrequently used Senate rule to delay for a week a committee meeting to vote on Thomas Perez to be labor secretary. Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Perez was in pursuit of a “far-left ideology.”

“The obstruction is reaching new levels of absurdity,” Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to Obama, wrote today on his Twitter account.

Romney Aide

McCarthy, if confirmed, would take over an agency that Republicans have criticized for pollution limits that they say will cost jobs and hurt the economy. McCarthy is assistant administrator for air pollution at the EPA, and before joining the Obama administration served Republican governors, including Mitt Romney in Massachusetts.

McCarthy didn’t return a telephone message left at her office.

Vitter said he had asked five specific questions of the EPA related to transparency in agency decision-making, and he said the agency had only adequately answered one query.

“We’re not asking the administration to walk away from their views on carbon emissions, or anything else,” Vitter said. Instead, they seek “openness and transparency.”

Asked what their action had to do with McCarthy’s credentials, Vitter said lawmakers are concerned about openness and transparency at the EPA. He said that as a top EPA official, McCarthy is accountable for the agency’s handling of information and she’s been “extremely irresponsible” in dealing with their requests.

Letters Released

Democrats countered that Vitter and other Republicans are just unhappy with the responses they got, and they distributed a series of letters the EPA had sent to Vitter and other Republicans answering each of those five specific questions.

The agency pledged to better respond to Freedom of Information Act requests, limiting use of personal e-mail accounts for official business and to publish pending lawsuits against the agency, which are often the prelude to settlements that lead to new regulations.

“The bottom line is that they got the answers to their questions, folks, but they don’t like the answers,” Boxer said. McCarthy had answered more than 1,000 specific inquiries, more than three times the previous record, she said.

“They are pretending that obstruction is about transparency,” John Walke, clean air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said today in an interview.

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