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Key Republican drops filibuster threat on Obama’s EPA choice

The top Republican on the Senate’s environment committee on Tuesday dropped his threat to filibuster President Obama’s nomination of Gina McCarthyRegina (Gina) McCarthyFormer EPA chiefs endorse Biden, criticize agency direction under Trump OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Energy Department proposes showerhead standards rollback after Trump complaints | Interior memo scaling back bird protections is 'contrary to law,' court rules | Former EPA chiefs call for agency 'reset' Former EPA chiefs call for agency 'reset' MORE to run the Environmental Protection Agency.

The move by Sen. David VitterDavid Bruce VitterBottom line Lysol, Charmin keep new consumer brand group lobbyist busy during pandemic Bottom line MORE (R-La.), who said he won “huge” EPA commitments to be more open with data, comes as Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidGOP Senate confirms Trump Supreme Court pick to succeed Ginsburg Democratic Senate emerges as possible hurdle for progressives  Harry Reid: Biden should give GOP three weeks to see if they will work with him MORE (D-Nev.) has threatened to change Senate rules to ease passage of stalled nominations.

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“I’ve had very productive conversations with EPA over the last several weeks, and believe the agency has taken significant steps forward on our five transparency requests,” Vitter said in a statement Tuesday.

“These are huge, significant steps forward to bringing transparency to the agency, and I see no further reason to block Gina McCarthy’s nomination, and I’ll support moving to an up-or-down vote on her nomination,” he added.

McCarthy is currently the EPA’s top air pollution regulator. Vitter’s action brings the Senate a step closer to a vote on the nomination, which the White House first sent to the Senate four months ago.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Harris launch Trump offensive in first joint appearance Bottom line Polls show big bounce to Biden ahead of Super Tuesday MORE (D-Calif.) and an aide to Reid said earlier on Tuesday that a vote on McCarthy could come next week. 

Vitter’s action does not guarantee, however, that the path has been fully cleared for McCarthy.

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntPower players play chess match on COVID-19 aid GOP to Trump: Focus on policy Low-flying helicopters to measure radiation levels in DC before inauguration MORE (R-Mo.) months ago placed a procedural “hold” on her nomination, protesting what he called federal “gridlock” surrounding a flood control project in his state. 

On Tuesday Blunt said his “hold” on the nomination remains.

He said EPA, the Interior Department and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have failed to demonstrate that they have ended bureaucratic infighting over the St. Johns Bayou-New Madrid Floodway Project.

Blunt, in a statement, said “I look forward to hearing conclusively whether the Corps, EPA, and [Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service] have reached an agreement on all of the facts surrounding this project.”

Vitter and several other Republicans, meanwhile, have blocked McCarthy as leverage in their quest for more “transparency” from the EPA.

Vitter’s office said Tuesday that the EPA made several commitments.

They include mandatory retraining of more than 17,000 workers on public records law, and publishing online, upon receipt, outside groups' petitions for rulemaking and notices of intent to sue.

Republicans have been attacking what they contend is an un-transparent “sue and settle” technique of policymaking.

He also claimed victories on the EPA’s use of data.

“EPA has initiated the process of obtaining the requested scientific information, as well as reaching out to relevant institutions for information on how to de-identify and code personally identifying information that may be in any of the data. For the first time we should be able to determine if there is any way of independently re-analyzing the science and benefits claims for a suite of major air regulations,” Vitter’s office said in a summary of what it called new commitments from the EPA.

This post was last updated at 4:29 p.m.

Zack Colman contributed