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: EPA weakens power plant pollution rule | DOJ lets companies skip paying penalties during pandemic | Trump eyes plan to pay companies to keep crude in the ground Green groups sue after EPA suspends enforcement of pollution monitoring due to coronavirus Democrats slam EPA proposal not to tighten air quality standards MORE to run the Environmental Protection Agency.

The move by Sen. David VitterDavid Bruce VitterBottom line Bottom line The biggest political upsets of the decade MORE (R-La.), who said he won “huge” EPA commitments to be more open with data, comes as Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidNevada congressman admits to affair after relationship divulged on podcast Overnight Energy: 600K clean energy jobs lost during pandemic, report finds | Democrats target diseases spread by wildlife | Energy Dept. to buy 1M barrels of oil Bottom line 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 BoxerPolls show big bounce to Biden ahead of Super Tuesday Sanders poised for big Super Tuesday Establishment Democrats rallying behind Biden 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 BluntWashington prepares for a summer without interns GOP faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill Senators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day 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