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July 18, 2013

Senate confirms Gina McCarthy to head EPA

The U.S. Senate on Thursday confirmed Gina McCarthy to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, where she'll serve as the nation's top air and water quality watchdog and oversee the president's climate change plans.

The Senate voted 59-40 to confirm McCarthy, who served previously as the agency’s assistant administrator in charge of air and radiation. The Senate unanimously confirmed her for that job during the first Obama administration. Previously, she worked as a state environmental regulator for Obama’s 2012 opponent, Republican former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Her confirmation came the same week as the Senate ended a standoff over President Barack Obama’s executive branch nominees. Democrats had threatened to dramatically alter Senate rules to block the chamber’s Republican minority from filibustering the confirmation votes of executive branch nominees.

In a statement, Obama said he was pleased she was confirmed with bipartisan support. "Over the past four years, I have valued Gina’s counsel and I look forward to having her in my Cabinet as we work to slow the effects of climate change and leave a cleaner environment for future generations."

Republicans, led by Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, held up a committee vote on her nomination for several weeks, saying the EPA hadn’t adequately answered questions about McCarthy’s role as a deputy there. Vitter asked McCarthy a record-breaking 653 questions, out of 1,120 from the committee.

Those questions, in addition to queries from other Republicans, might be the most ever asked of an administration nominee facing Senate confirmation. McCarthy’s predecessor, Lisa Jackson, faced 157 questions from the same committee, Democrats said.

During her confirmation hearing, Republican senators criticized McCarthy for her past role at a federal agency that has a heavy regulatory hand, including on the coal industry and climate change policy; Democrats argued that EPA air-quality rules save lives and create the conditions for a healthy environment and a strong economy.

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