ICYMI: Politico writes "What Vitter won in his war with the EPA"
July 11, 2013
Earlier this week, U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) announced major agreements from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding 5 transparency requests EPW Republicans have been demanding throughout the Gina McCarthy nomination process. Click here to read more about the EPA's agreements to be more transparent.
Louisiana Sen. David Vitter declared victory this week in his battle with the EPA, and in return removed a major obstacle for Gina McCarthy's quest to head the agency.
What did he get in return?
Quite a lot. Vitter didn't score across-the-board wins on all of his requests for changes in the agency's behavior, but he negotiated smaller wins that could have long-term implications for how the EPA manages lawsuits, releases data and gauges the economic impact of regulations.
The EPA's concessions won't strike at the heart of its efforts to tackle climate change - something that wasn't on the table in the months of wrangling with the senator. An administration official said Wednesday that not much has changed materially from an offer the agency made to Vitter two months ago, when he acquiesced to a party-line vote in the Environment and Public Works Committee that moved McCarthy's nomination to the Senate floor.
Vitter, the panel's top Republican, had orchestrated a GOP boycott in May of Democrats' first attempt to vote McCarthy's nomination out of committee. Then he made shifting demands from the agency before announcing Tuesday that he won't support a filibuster against her confirmation.
All the while, he ran a voracious campaign pushing the EPA to be more "transparent." He pressed five requests that he has called vital to providing the public with clarity on the agency's actions, though he expanded some of those items and quietly dropped others.
Now, he probably needs McCarthy to clear the confirmation process if he expects to see his efforts bear fruit.
One of his wins is a longtime goal of some GOP lawmakers and industries: getting access to the data that underlay two major epidemiological studies backing up several major EPA air rules.
The agency has long resisted such calls, saying that the raw data Vitter wants isn't all in one place: It was compiled over many years from numerous scientists and private institutions, which often own the information.
But repeated prodding by Vitter has done the trick - mostly. The agency has contacted researchers to get the raw data behind those studies, using the leverage of an amendment that requires all federally funded research data to be available for the public. The EPA still must deal with difficult privacy issues related to medical information attached to the data, but it's confident it can manage the task, acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe told Vitter in a letter Tuesday.
The senator also wants changes in how the EPA does its economic modeling to determine the costs of major rules. There, he got some of what he wanted.
Vitter originally asked the agency to begin using a particular type of modeling to address "whole-economy employment impacts of regulations." But the EPA balked, saying the model is not peer-reviewed and that that type of modeling generally overlooks or ignores environmental benefits.
The EPA initially agreed to pull together experts from two advisory panels to offer guidance on using the models. But Vitter laid on more pressure, pushing the EPA to create a new panel of experts "with significant private-sector experience" and other specific requirements - and to commit to adopting their recommendations.
They wound up meeting in the middle.
Perciasepe told Vitter on Tuesday that he has asked the agency's Science Advisory Board to take up the issue, and has asked the board to include a balanced panel with experts on whole-economy modeling. He didn't mention whether they must be from the private sector or whether the agency will be tied to adopting their recommendations.
Vitter also wants industry to have more input in another area: the courtroom.
The EPA agreed with Vitter to create two websites to post outside groups' demands for new regulations, specifically petitions for rulemaking and notices that the groups intend to sue the agency. But the agency didn't bend much on Vitter's demand that the EPA notify the public before starting settlement negotiations, or to allow any parties to intervene in the talks. The EPA argued that those demands are a question for the Justice Department and that a judge generally makes such decisions.
Vitter scored partial victories in his ongoing crusade over the agency's email practices, from which much of the drama sprang after revelations of a secondary email account used by former Administrator Lisa Jackson under the name "Richard Windsor."
The EPA has agreed to issue new guidance to employees on the use of email accounts, including private emails, as well as record-keeping and responses to Freedom of Information Act requests. The agency earlier launched an inspector general investigation into allegations of ideological bias in its FOIA system and has agreed to comply with the recommendations of the IG when that is finished.