Moniz, McCarthy nomination hearings put spotlight on Obama regulatory agenda

Two of President Barack Obama’s top appointees to oversee energy and pollution policy will take center stage this week at Senate confirmation hearings that should add new detail about the administration’s second-term regulatory agenda.

The hearings will be sandwiched around the release of Obama’s 2014 budget plan on Wednesday. The budget should also shed light on the president’s spending priorities at the Energy Department on renewable and fossil fuel research and his support for new tax revenues from the oil and gas industry.

Of the two confirmation hearings, the most fireworks are expected at the one scheduled Thursday for Environmental Protection Agency administrator nominee Gina McCarthy.

Currently the EPA’s assistant administrator for air and radiation, McCarthy can expect to be challenged by Republicans who want to know if she will attempt to impose carbon regulations on existing power plants and when she will finalize a controversial proposal on future plants.

The hearing before the Environment and Public Works Committee also should include questions about regulations to lower smog-forming ozone and EPA’s support for blending of more ethanol into national gasoline supplies.

On Tuesday, Energy Secretary nominee Ernest Moniz will face senators at what is expected to be a less confrontational confirmation hearing at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, despite concerns by some about his ties to the oil and natural gas industries.

Moniz, an MIT professor who served as the Energy Department under secretary in the Clinton administration, has advocated the use of natural gas as a lower-carbon “bridge fuel” during the transition to renewable electricity sources.

He heads the oil industry-founded MIT Energy Initiative and Laboratory for Energy and Environment, and ethics documents revealed he has held lucrative industry consulting jobs. His nomination has raised concerns among environmental groups who question his impartiality toward natural gas exports and hydraulic fracturing.

Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is expected to press Moniz on his views on exports and potential price increases to U.S. consumers, and the potential for environmental harm from fracturing.

The hearings will contrast with efforts by House Republicans this week to highlight their support for the Keystone XL oil sand pipeline and opposition to EPA rules that McCarthy shepherded in her current position.

The House Energy and Commerce Energy and Power Subcommittee is to hold a hearing on Wednesday on a bill by Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., that would force the approval of the Keystone project.

The same panel is also set to hold a hearing Friday on a new draft bill that would limit the EPA’s ability to finalize regulations that impose costs on industry of $1 billion or more.

It is similar to legislation Republicans passed in 2011 that drew opposition from the White House, though the bill was not taken up in the Senate.

The Energy and Commerce Environment and the Economy Subcommittee on Thursday is also to take testimony on its latest draft bill to give states authority over power plant coal ash disposal. EPA proposed potential regulation of coal ash in 2010 but has not finalized a rule.

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