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) McCarthyOvernight Energy: Critics accuse Interior's top lawyer of misleading Congress | Boaty McBoatface makes key climate change discovery | Outrage over Trump's order to trim science advisory panels Trump's order to trim science advisory panels sparks outrage Overnight Energy: Trump order to trim science panels sparks outrage | Greens ask watchdog to investigate Interior's records policies | EPA to allow use of pesticide harmful to bees MORE to run the Environmental Protection Agency.

The move by Sen. David VitterDavid Bruce VitterGrocery group hires new top lobbyist Lobbying World Senate confirms Trump judge who faced scrutiny over abortion views MORE (R-La.), who said he won “huge” EPA commitments to be more open with data, comes as Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason Reid2020 Democrats fight to claim Obama's mantle on health care Reid says he wishes Franken would run for Senate again Panel: How Biden's gaffes could cost him against Trump 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 BoxerOnly four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates Hispanic civil rights icon endorses Harris for president California AG Becerra included in Bloomberg 50 list 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 BluntEx-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity GOP group targets McConnell over election security bills in new ad Budget deal sparks scramble to prevent shutdown 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