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Manchin only Democrat to vote against EPA chief

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin voted Thursday against confirming Gina McCarthy to run the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during President Obama's second term, making him the only Democrat to oppose Obama's pick for the post.

McCarthy won Senate approval by a 59-40 vote. Republicans had tied up her nomination since March 7, a record delay for an EPA administrator.

Manchin, in a floor speech hours prior to the final vote, did not challenge McCarthy's qualifications for the job, but said he opposed her as part of his fight over coal policies "with the EPA and the president who nominated her."

"That fight will not end with the Senate's vote on Ms. McCarthy's nomination," Manchin said. "That fight will continue until the EPA stops its regulatory rampage and until the president comes up with feasible policies that achieve real energy independence."

Manchin was also the only Democrat who voted with Republicans earlier Thursday to try to block a floor vote on whether McCarthy would be confirmed. The GOP lost that vote by a vote of 69-31.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., voted to confirm McCarthy, saying that leadership positions in the administration need to be filled "so the federal government can finally get work done."

"This includes the EPA, which provides an important function: to protect our health and water quality," Rockefeller said. "Gina McCarthy has a great deal of experience working with these issues, and as she starts her new job, I hope she will also work to find real solutions to create and save jobs in West Virginia.

"We need to find a responsible balance," Rockefeller said.

McCarthy ran EPA's air pollution division during Obama's first term. A Boston native, she holds degrees in social anthropology from the University of Massachusetts Boston and in environmental health, engineering, planning and policy from Tufts University.

In his speech opposing McCarthy's confirmation, Manchin said he met with her "a couple of weeks ago" and found McCarthy to be "earnest, friendly, pragmatic and incredibly intelligent."

"She is a talented scientist who has dedicated her life to public service, serving under Democrats and Republicans alike," Manchin said. "I certainly appreciate her pragmatism, her willingness to server her country and her stellar bipartisan credentials, an extremely rare quality in Washington these days."

Manchin also noted a point that many Democrats who supported McCarthy have repeatedly made -- that she advised Mitt Romney on climate change when he was governor of Massachusetts.

"It's not hard to imagine that she could have been nominated to be EPA administrator by Mitt Romney if he had won the 2012 presidential election," Manchin said.

Still, Manchin said McCarthy's qualifications and bipartisanship weren't enough to win his vote.

"My vote against her goes much deeper than her nomination, her views on energy and the environment or even her job performance the last four years as head of air policy at the EPA," Manchin said. "No, my vote is against Gina McCarthy is really a vote against the administration's lack of any serious attempt to develop an energy strategy for America's future."

Manchin continued, "the president often speaks about an 'all-of-the above' energy policy. But his new global climate proposal amounts to a true declaration of war on one of the above - coal.

"In fact, the president plans to use the EPA to regulate the coal industry out of existence," Manchin said.

While McCarthy's nomination was opposed by Republican leaders and backed by Democrats and environmental organizations, even some within the coal industry offered supportive comments about working with her on EPA air pollution rules.

"Did she do all of the things we thought would be best? No, but we do see that she's trying to do things that would achieve regulatory balance," John McManus, vice president of environmental services for American Electric Power, told the National Journal.

And in a statement Thursday afternoon, the National Mining Association said it "stands ready to work with Gina McCarthy ... toward thoughtful, constructive policies that assure American's mining industry continues to provide the energy, metals and minerals all Americans depend on for economic security and quality of life."

West Virginia political leaders have generally opposed Obama administration efforts to reduce the impacts of mountaintop removal mining, cut air pollution emissions from coal-fired power plants and require better management of toxic coal-ash from those plants.

And while industry backers blame an Obama "war on coal" for a decline in Appalachian coal employment, most experts agree the industry's troubles are also caused by a combination of factors including cheap natural gas, competition from other coal basins, and the mining out of Appalachia's best coal reserves.

The state's political leaders harshly criticized Obama's June order that EPA finalize greenhouse gas limits for new power plants by September 2013 and existing facilities by June 2015, but state officials offer few -- if any -- details of their own proposals for how West Virginia could start to help slow global warming.

When Obama's climate plan was announced, AEP officials said it appeared to take "a balanced approach" and that utilities can achieve "meaningful reductions and minimize economic pain" if EPA gives them "maximum flexibility within the confines of the Clean Air Act."

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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