WASHINGTON -- The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Thursday approved the nomination of Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency, sending the Obama administration's pick for consideration before the full Senate. The vote was 10 to 8, with members voting along party lines.
The committee approval comes one week after Senate Republicans boycotted a vote for McCarthy, who is currently the environmental agency's top air quality official.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the committee's chair, said it's much too soon to celebrate, however, adding that Republicans' unwillingness to move McCarthy forward raises concerns.
"All I know is this couldn't be a better nominee," Boxer told reporters after the vote. "If they bypass this woman and don't give her the nomination she deserves, that's an incredible signal they're sending out."
Thursday's vote had been delayed a week, after committee Republicans skipped an earlier vote. Under Senate rules, a majority of committee members must be present for a vote, meaning Boxer needed 10 members of the committee to show up. The absence of committee Republicans last Thursday, as well as Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), left Democrats with only eight members. Lautenberg's poor health has kept him from the Hill recently and Baucus was attending another hearing.
Lautenberg, who has been suffering from leg pain and chronic fatigue, came to Washington on Thursday specifically to help advance McCarthy's nomination. His attendance at the committee vote marked his second visit to the Capitol since the end of February.
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), the committee's ranking member, has been critical of McCarthy and has claimed the EPA has been less than forthcoming about the nominee. He signaled Thursday that he would continue his quest for transparency, saying that the EPA's acting administrator had already promised "significant" action on requests he sent earlier this week ranging from improving the agency’s response to Freedom of Information Act requests to reviewing McCarthy's private email accounts.
Environmental groups were quick to offer up their endorsement of McCarthy as her nomination advanced to the full Senate.
"Now it’s time for the full Senate to confirm Gina McCarthy to lead the EPA," said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement after the vote. "She’s answered more than 1,000 questions from committee Democrats and Republicans. She’s demonstrated a strong commitment to protecting our air, water, land and health. And no one is better qualified to lead this vital agency at a time of mounting climate crisis."
League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski chimed in with his support, saying McCarthy "is one of the most qualified EPA nominees to come before the Senate, and she deserves a swift bipartisan confirmation vote on the Senate floor."