Energy Industry: Obama's EPA Pick 'Not So Bad'

New pick has good reputation among industry leaders who praise her willingness to listen to concerns.

Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator with the Environmental Protection Agency,  is being nominated to run the environmental agency, sources say.
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It's expected that some Republican, and even coal-state Democrats, will voice opposition to President Barack Obama's new pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, but industry insiders say she's far preferable than the current one.

Gina McCarthy, who worked in Massachusetts under Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, ran Connecticut's Department of Environmental Protection and has served in a top EPA role already, has a history of backing strong regulations on gas and carbon emissions like her current boss, Lisa Jackson. But McCarthy's demeanor, willingness to listen to business and approach to regulation sets her apart from the right-wing boogeyman Jackson has become.

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"I wouldn't say we're prepared to call her an extremist," says Luke Popovich, spokesman for the National Mining Association. "However, the fact that she may be less ideologically oriented than her predecessor is not necessarily to praise her objectivity, it's simply to say that virtually anyone would be an improvement."

Popovich calls the McCarthy pick an "opportunity for the administration to reset relations with the industry by striking a better balance between environmental and economic issues and to develop a genuine, credible 'all-of-the-above' energy policy."

Conservative Republicans have long loathed the EPA and its regulatory authority, but took particular issue with Jackson, Obama's only director, who marked a stark contrast to eight years under a much more hands-off Bush administration.

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And while lawmakers, such as Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah or Mike Barrasso of Wyoming, are expected to voice strong opposition, a conservative energy industry lobbyist says the protestations are "a lot of bluster."

"This is a pro forma thing," says the lobbyist, who declined to speak on the record so he could speak freely. "My gut feeling from the chatter is that the members are probably to the right of companies."

But many companies will likely shy away from explicit support of McCarthy for fear of publicly opposing members they want on their side.

"At the end of the day, these picks are not radical; this is far less radical than Lisa Jackson," says the energy lobbyist.

Popovich agrees, calling McCarthy "very knowledgeable."

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Not every conservative group agrees. According to Politico, the American Energy Alliance predicted in a release last month that "The EPA will look as different under Gina McCarthy as Cuba looked when Uncle Fidel passed the hammer and sickle to his little brother Raul."

Unlike Obama's pick for Secretary of Defense, former GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel, who flailed during his own confirmation hearing and further fueled doubt about his skills or ability to lead the department, Popovich says McCarthy will likely impress skeptics during her hearing.

"I do expect fireworks on the McCarthy side," he says. "[But] I don't think anyone is questioning her understanding or ability. She will not be caught off-guard in any defense of what they have done. I would expect her to be well-informed. She just doesn't strike me as an ideologue."

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McCarthy, whose confirmation should be scheduled in the coming weeks, will likely face questions about expected EPA regulations for carbon emissions of existing power plants and be forced to defend the EPA's regulatory authority in the face of lower court ruling's that say it has overstepped its limits.

Obama's pick for Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, gets even higher marks from NMA's Popovich.

"He co-authored that MIT report on coal and he's recently insisted that coal's got to be a part of the big picture; there's a reason why it's the leading fuel in the world in terms of growth, he gets that," he says. "He doesn't have an ideological opposition."

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