Gina McCarthy moved one step closer to heading the Environmental Protection Agency Tuesday after Sen. David Vitter (R., La.) released his hold on her nomination, but hurdles still remain.
After securing several promises from the EPA to improve its transparency efforts, Vitter announced, "I see no further reason to block Gina McCarthy’s nomination, and I’ll support an up-or-down vote."
However, Sen. Roy Blunt (R., Mo.) said Tuesday he will continue his hold on McCarthy’s nomination, which has been in place since March, pending answers from the EPA, Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Army Corps of Engineers about a floodway project in his state.
The agencies sent a letter to Blunt saying they had established "a common understanding" over the project, but Blunt found the letter wanting.
"Unfortunately, this letter still fails to answer one simple and fundamental question: do all of the agencies agree on the facts surrounding this project?" Blunt wrote. "I am not asking the federal government to spend a dime, or for the agencies to green light the project’s construction. All I’ve asked is for three government agencies to agree on a simple set of facts."
Observers predict the Senate will approve McCarthy, currently the head of EPA’s air and radiation office, to replace former agency administrator Lisa Jackson once McCarthy’s nomination makes it to an up-or-down vote.
Republican senators have been trying for months to pry scientific data from the agency that it uses to craft health standards and regulations.
"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 said in a statement Tuesday.
The GOP’s concerns were heightened by a series of transparency lapses at the EPA, such as allegedly biased responses to Freedom of Information Act requests and high-level employees using private email addresses to skirt public record law.
However, Vitter said he secured significant promises from the agency to improve its transparency.
"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," the Louisiana senator said. "These are huge, significant steps forward to bringing transparency to the agency."
In response to Vitter’s demands, the EPA will retrain its workforce on complying with Freedom of Information Act requests and records maintenance, including use of personal email addresses.
The agency has also begun providing the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee with data from health studies used to craft EPA’s air pollution policies.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said Tuesday that a vote on McCarthy could come next week.