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GOP senators focus on EPA's long reach, not nominee

| Thursday, April 11, 2013, 8:00 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Even the Republicans who are the most critical of the Environmental Protection Agency had few questions on Thursday about whether Gina McCarthy, President Obama's pick to be the nation's top clean air and water watchdog, has the qualifications for the job. But the agency's regulatory practices got a lashing at McCarthy's Senate confirmation hearing as Democrats and Republicans acknowledged that the agency under her leadership was likely to take the lead in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the absence of significant congressional action on climate change.

“Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our generation,” McCarthy told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Courts have determined that carbon emissions are a pollutant under the Clean Air Act and the agency will pursue regulation of them, she said.

The central functions of the agency have been “obfuscated by ideology,” said Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, the top Republican on the committee.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., argued that tougher emission rules for power plants have stunted the market for domestic coal and said the EPA was failing the country.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, said Barrasso had made it clear that the debate over McCarthy's nomination was less about her qualifications than about how Congress should address climate change. Republicans want to do as little as possible, Sanders said.

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