Senate hearing on McCabe upstaged by tiff between Boxer, Vitter

The Senate hearing on Janet McCabe’s nomination to be Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on April 8 was somewhat overshadowed by a verbal battle between two senators.

McCabe appeared before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works as one of three Obama administration nominees under consideration for various posts. McCabe has been at EPA since 2009 and already serving as acting head of the office. She is also former head of Kids Environment, a health advocacy organization, and held several leadership posts at the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) and has been an assistant attorney general in Massachusetts.

Democrats called her well-qualified. Republicans acknowledged her credentials but also said that as an EPA veteran she must share the blame for what they consider EPA overreach.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said McCabe has been part of the EPA team “quarterbacking the war on coal.”

But the McCabe nomination and the hearing itself was somewhat overshadowed by a spat between Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) who chairs the panel and senior Republican member Sen. David Vitter (R-La.).

Vitter took offense to Boxer having her staff display photos of people coping with heavy smog in China – evidently to symbolize GOP opposition to tougher EPA enforcement of the Clean Air Act in the United States.

Vitter told Boxer she was behaving in a cartoonish and unprofessional manner. “It’s ridiculous, cartoonish and irresponsible,” Vitter said. “Nobody is trying to repeal the Clean Air Act,” Vitter went on to say.

Vitter also criticized Boxer for interrupting him while he was speaking. Boxer didn’t back down, however. She said Senate Republicans have made repeated efforts to impede EPA’s enforcement of clean air regulation.

Vitter would eventually walk out of the hearing.

Before Vitter left, however, he and fellow Republican James Inhofe of Oklahoma questioned McCabe about EPA transparency, the much-discussed greenhouse gas (GHG) standards being developed for power plants and how the Obama administration calculates the “social cost” of carbon.

Vitter also questioned EPA’s oversight of an ex-EPA official, John Beale. Beale, who was involved in EPA policy on climate change, was sentenced to federal prison last year for, among other things, lying to his bosses and saying he was a CIA spy to avoid doing his real job.

Inhofe says Obama, EPA will bring ‘rolling blackouts’

Inhofe also said that EPA has under-estimated the amount of coal-fired generation being retired in connection with EPA regulations. “In direct response to EPA rules, power generation companies have announced plans to shutter 51,000 MW of generation.  Most of these will be closing down in the next 53 weeks as the compliance deadline for the Utility MACT rule arrives,” Inhofe said.

During the next couple of weeks, EPA is also expected to roll out its final 316(b) rule for water intake cooling towers This could affect another 40,000 MW, Inhofe said.

“Rolling blackouts are coming and it’s because of the Obama Administration,” Inhofe said.

McCabe said she and EPA do appreciate that a diverse power system is essential to keep the nation’s lights on.

“We also must take thoughtful and reasonable steps to address the threat of climate change,” McCabe said. “As a Hoosier, I know this very well. Indiana has been, and continues to be, a strong manufacturing state. A reliable and affordable energy supply is vitally important to its economy. And coal is a big part of that.”

McCabe also said that she plans to work closely with state agencies and decisions will be based on science.

In addition to McCabe, the Senate panel was also considering the nomination of Ann E. Dunkin to be assistant administrator of environmental information for EPA; and Manuel H. Ehrlich, Jr. to be a member of the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.