By Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent
Now that the Senate has approved Gina McCarthy as Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, water lobbyists are wondering if Ken Kopocis will be confirmed as the Assistant Administrator for Water.
McCarthy's nomination was approved in a 59-to-40 vote after a four-month delay and a showdown over the use of Senate rules to block executive department appointments.
President Barack Obama selected McCarthy, previously the assistant administrator for Air and Radiation, in March to succeed Lisa P. Jackson. Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe was acting administrator in the interim.
After her confirmation, McCarthy signaled that the EPA would continue to press aggressively with rulemakings, despite complaints by republicans and various industry groups that the Obama administration's EPA has been heavy-handed and overreaching.
In her first public speech as administrator, McCarthy defended President Obama's new initiative to use his executive branch powers to reduce the U.S. contribution to global warming. First on the list is a set of rules to limit carbon dioxide emissions from new and existing power plants.
McCarthy echoed Obama's position that the environment and the economy aren't necessarily in conflict. She said, "The truth is we need to embrace cutting carbon pollution as a way to spark business innovation. We need to cut carbon pollution to grow jobs. We need to cut carbon pollution to strengthen the economy."
The president initially nominated Ken Kopocis to head EPA's Office of Water in 2011, but his paperwork gathered dust for the rest of that session of Congress. Like McCarthy, opposition to Kopocis was focused on politics and policies, not professionalism.
At Kopocis's first confirmation hearing, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who was chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee at the time, had kind remarks about the nominee: "We have worked together collegially on a number of important bills, and I know that he is someone with whom I can work." But Inhofe also complained, "The Obama-EPA's water policies represent an aggressive, heavy-handed, top-down approach to regulation."
Kopocis was renominated at the beginning of Obama's second term this year. (Nancy Stoner has recently been serving as Acting Assistant Administrator for Water.)
At his confirmation hearing, Kopocis - a veteran of 27 years on the staff of the House and Senate committees - has been the model of conciliation.
He said, "The greatest rewards in my career have been in assisting both senators and representatives in developing bicameral, bipartisan legislation to address the nation's critical water resources and water quality needs.
"The nation has made great strides in protecting public health and the environment while growing the economy but we have yet to achieve the objective established in 1972 of restoring and maintaining the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation's waters. If approved by this committee and confirmed by the Senate, it is my intent to work with all of you toward achieving that objective for this and future generations."
Kopocis spoke of the need for bipartisan cooperation and collaboration on water issues.
"Your allies do not always have the correct answer, and the advocates on the other side of an issue are not always wrong. It should be possible to achieve one's stated goals and respect the legitimate perspective of others in the debate. I have observed that, too often, people hear but do not listen. If approved and confirmed, you can count on me to listen to all perspectives and views."
But the second hearing was largely a repeat of the first, with republicans attacking the administration for various water policies. The committee approved the nomination again in a party-line vote.
Although the Senate cleared many nominations just before its August recess, Kopocis' name was not on the list.
Ben Grumbles, president of the U.S. Water Alliance, was the Assistant Administrator for Water during the second Bush administration. He told WaterWorld, "Ken and I have traveled many roads and rivers together over the last 25 years: on the Hill, in the executive branch, with the states, and in the NGO world. We haven't been driving or rowing in the same direction on every single issue, but that's the nature of having different bosses over a number of decades. We've always worked well together, however. Ken is extremely qualified for the position. I don't know of anyone smarter on the laws, policies and politics surrounding EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers and related water resources and environmental programs. He's also very good at crafting solutions when policy makers want to find common ground."
Editor's Note: While he awaits final Senate Confirmation, Mr. Kopocis will be joining EPA on November 2 as a Senior Advisor. Nancy Stoner, Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA's Office of Water, will continue in her current role until that time.