By Ben Geman - 12/30/12 11:00 AM EST
Senate Republicans are in no mood to allow easy confirmation of any replacement for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson, who announced Thursday that she’ll leave the agency’s top job early in 2013.
Several said they want evidence a new administrator would change the direction of EPA, an agency that critics accuse of imposing overly aggressive rules that burden coal companies, manufacturers and other businesses.
President Obama, who needs his political capital for fiscal battles and looming fights over gun control and immigration, didn’t immediately launch the EPA confirmation effort.
The White House said EPA Deputy Administrator Robert Perciasepe will take the top job on an “acting” basis, and provided no timeline for announcing a nominee to formally replace Jackson.
Perciasepe is also believed to be under consideration for nomination to the job.
EPA observers say the list of potential nominees could also include Gina McCarthy, the agency’s top air pollution regulator, and Kathleen McGinty, the former head of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection.
McCarthy and Perciasepe have already won Senate confirmation. In fact, Perciasepe has won it twice – he was a top air and water quality regulator in President Clinton’s EPA.
But since they joined the Obama administration in 2009, EPA has proposed or completed several rules that have been cheered by public health and environmental advocates, but faced criticism from Republicans and industry groups that call them overreaching.
They include rules to cut mercury and other air-toxics from coal-fired power plants, and toughened national air quality standards for fine-particulate matter, or soot.
Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who next year will be the top Republican on
the Environment and Public Works Committee, has placed procedural
“holds” on other administration nominees for senior environmental
Vitter was among the GOP senators who thwarted the confirmation of Rebecca Wodder, who was Obama’s choice to be the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for fish, wildlife, and parks.
Wodder ultimately withdrew her name from consideration in early 2012.
Vitter, in a statement, stopped short of vowing to block a nominee to replace Jackson, but hardly ruled it out.
“Moving forward I’ll be working with my colleagues in the Senate to make sure the new nominee is thoroughly vetted, puts sound scientific standards above political ideology and understands that EPA’s avalanche of regulations can crush the growth of American businesses,” he said.
One Senate Democratic aide predicted a difficult path for Jackson’s successor.
“Of course it depends on who the pick is, but I would think it would be fairly rocky given how politicized the GOP has made EPA efforts to implement court-ordered and long-overdue pollution reductions,” the aide said.
The Democratic aide added that Republicans on the Environment and Public Works Committee are “some of the leading demonizers of EPA,” and that conservative outside groups “could decide to jump in and try and slow down or bring down the nominee.”
Obama’s second term will include more fights over EPA policy. Among them:
The agency plans to finalize carbon-emissions rules for new power plants, and activists are pressing EPA to adopt climate rules for existing coal-fired power plants, a major source of heat-trapping emissions.
EPA plans to revisit national air-quality standards for ozone. Obama, in a brutal defeat for Jackson, overrode EPA’s plan to toughen the rules in 2011 but noted they would be reviewed in a second term.
EPA has not completed planned, but long-delayed, rules to impose new
controls on storage of coal ash, a waste product from coal-fired power
Elsewhere, the agency is studying the effects of the oil-and-gas development method called hydraulic fracturing on water sources (although some of EPA’s authority to regulate “fracking” was thwarted in a 2005 energy law).
Stephen Brown, vice president for federal government affairs with the oil refiner Tesoro Corp., said Perciasepe would be the least controversial choice for Obama to nominate.
“I keep coming back to Perciasepe only because I am not sure who else gets through, and even he could just be ‘acting.’ Senate confirmation will bring everyone and everything to a boil,” Brown said.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a member of the environment panel, said Friday that he hoped it would be possible to confirm a replacement for Jackson, but noted the rocky path for nominees for other jobs.
He said even agency critics should want a formal, Senate-confirmed replacement for Jackson.
“Whether you are in favor of policies or not, you want to have someone who is accountable, you want an administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency. I would think that senators would carry out their responsibility and carefully consider the qualifications of the individual. Maybe I am naive about that, but that is what we need to do,” he said.
A wildcard is whether Democrats in January push through changes to Senate rules to make filibusters and other procedural blockades more difficult and less frequent.
The consulting firm ClearView Energy Partners, in a note Thursday, described the tough road ahead.
“None of the frontrunners to succeed Jackson is a sitting Senator, as is the case with President Obama’s nominee for secretary of State, John Kerry (D-Mass.), which means the nominee isn’t likely to be protected by Senate traditions of collegiality,” ClearView said.
This post was updated at 9:51 a.m.