Opinion

Op-Ed: Key questions Gina McCarthy must answer

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Opinion,Op-Eds

Gina McCarthy appears before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee seeking confirmation as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

McCarthy, now an assistant administrator in charge of the agency's Air and Radiation Office, has been at the center of the email scandal over "Richard Windsor," the false identity established by EPA for McCarthy's recently resigned boss, Lisa Jackson.

This is not because of anything we know McCarthy wrote, but because of EPA's determined efforts to keep us from knowing what she wrote.

That is, Jackson's "Windsor" account is the subject of ongoing litigation and document production under litigation filed under the Freedom of Information Act by the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

The subject matter of CEI's FOIA request at issue -- EPA's war on coal -- is McCarthy's wheelhouse. As such, EPA should be producing dozens if not hundreds of records to and from McCarthy on this topic.

Yet, EPA continues to withhold thousands of emails in full -- not even identifying the parties to the correspondence in most cases -- and those that do involve McCarthy are almost uniformly blacked out in full, which makes it looks like EPA plans to do whatever it takes to protect McCarthy until she is confirmed.

As a result, the public has learned virtually nothing from the head of the Air and Radiation Office about that office's top priority -- the administration's war on coal, its "MACT" rules, which effectively shut down coal-fired power plants in the United States, or climate science in general.

It should be noted that McCarthy never produced information she promised to provide senators during her previous confirmation hearing for her current position.

She also has failed to be forthcoming about EPA's aggressive campaign to regulate coal -- a politically disfavored but abundant and cheap domestic energy source -- out of existence.

Before senators give her the keys to America's environmental and economic future, they should ask these key questions:

* Why have you not produced the information you promised earlier? Will you now finally produce it and, regardless, what does this tell us about your trustworthiness, going forward?

* So far, nearly every email that we are aware of that you sent or received regarding coal, air policy or other common search terms responsive to CEI's FOIA requests has been either withheld or cartoonishly redacted to the point of providing no content whatsoever. These actions seem to violate FOIA. Further, you also have not produced the Instant Messages that have been requested ... redacted or not. Will you agree to provide us those emails and other electronic communications released in full, unredacted (except for personal information, etc.), so we can have some insight into your thinking? If not, why not? And why should we confirm you without them?

* You seemed to say to the coal industry that your agency would not develop regulations to require coal-fired power plants to switch to other fuels. Then, under your direction, rules were promulgated that did precisely this. How do you explain this? And why should they -- or we -- trust you?

* Hydraulic fracturing -- or "fracking" -- has sparked an energy revolution in this country. It has reduced costs, put tens of thousands to work and lowered air pollution to 1980s levels.

We learned from one unredacted email that the previous administrator knew little about it. What do you know and think about it? And can those who frack trust you any more than those who use coal in power plants?

Certainly, there are more questions senators should demand of McCarthy. But, for now, senators should insist McCarthy provide the information she has promised before, the information EPA owes us now, let us in on her thinking on the administration's war on coal and how it will operate within her agency, how she intends to improve transparency and what the coal industry should expect going forward.

Brian McNicoll is senior director of communications at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (cei.org).

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