Gina McCarthy

EPAHere’s Gina.

President Obama today nominated Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency. She currently serves as assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation under outgoing EPA chief Lisa Jackson.

Lauded and loathed for her climate work, McCarthy, a 58-year-old Bostonite, has had a big hand in recent critical rules such as new auto emissions standards. She used to work as the top state environmental official for Massachusetts under a Gov. Mitt Romney, and then in the same role in Connecticut under another Republican governor, Jodi Rell. But she’s still mostly a public unknown, which explains why people are so delighted/disturbed by her strong Boston accent.

McCarthy is squarely on the side of fighting climate change through sometimes aggressive policy-making. Her work in Massachusetts helped lead to the landmark Supreme Court case in 2007 that gave the EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. From The Wall Street Journal:

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Ms. McCarthy won praise from Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) who worked with her when both were Connecticut state officials. “She recognizes that sometimes there’s a balance that has to be struck between environmental emphasis and economic growth, but she’s convinced the two are often mutually supportive,” Mr. Blumenthal said in an interview.

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Ms. McCarthy is liked by environmental groups, which applaud her work at the EPA and her defense of some of the most sweeping environmental rules of Mr. Obama’s first term.

Some industry officials view Ms. McCarthy as a less polarizing figure than Ms. Jackson and say it is better to have an experienced regulator at the helm than an outsider.

The National Journal has a good profile of “pragmatic” but “aspirational” McCarthy and her “ready sense of humor and tough-talking style.” Some “industry officials” like her, but:

McCarthy comes with built-in enemies. If nominated, she’ll face a fiery confirmation hearing from Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The panel’s ranking Republican, Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, and senior Republican member John Barrasso of Wyoming hail from states where oil and coal production are big parts of the economy—and EPA regulations are viewed as straight-up job-killers.

Vitter has already launched a public campaign of sorts against McCarthy, questioning the scientific methods used in EPA’s regulatory agenda. And in 2009, Barrasso initially blocked McCarthy’s nomination to her current slot at EPA, in part because of concerns about her approach to regulating greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

McCarthy has a history of climate action, but also a history of supporting natural gas and oil drilling à la Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy. Industry is a little uncomfortable with McCarthy because of her cozy relationships with environmental causes, but some environmentalists question McCarthy’s cozy relationships with industry.

This might make her an effective EPA administrator or it might make her a lightning rod for congressional climate-denialist craziness. Or both! But it seems the brash Bostonite will ruffle some feathers either way.

See McCarthy in action, and hear that accent, as she talks about the dangers of old-fashioned cookstoves in the developing world:

Also read about Obama’s nominee to head the Department of Energy: Ernest Moniz.