Those who question the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency‘s dubious record should be glad to read a Bloomberg Businessweek article about Louisiana Sen. David Vitter’s efforts to hold EPA more accountable.

Yet there’s one query the EPA’s head of air regulation has no way to respond to, and it could derail her nomination. GOP Senator David Vitter of Louisiana—who alone has made 400 inquiries—is insisting she turn over data linking air pollution to early death. The EPA has used that research, much to the consternation of energy companies, to justify regulations that curb pollution from diesel engines, coal-fired power plants, and industrial boilers. There’s one problem: The agency doesn’t possess the data. They were compiled by Harvard University two decades ago—long before McCarthy became an EPA official—and confidentiality agreements with thousands of participants prevent researchers from making the information public. Nor can the EPA access the Harvard analysis.

Although McCarthy won the support of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on May 16, no Republicans voted for her. Vitter says if McCarthy doesn’t produce the Harvard research and other information he wants, he will filibuster the nomination. “I hope we won’t have a fight on the floor,” he said at a recent hearing. …

… The energy industry has questioned the validity of Harvard’s research since the EPA first used it to set rules on soot in 1997. Luke Bolar, Vitter’s spokesman, says the senator wants the data now so he can provide them to outside researchers and let them do their own tests to see if the EPA’s claims of benefits from its regulations are true. “Without the data there currently exists no way for anyone to verify what EPA is claiming,” writes Bolar in an e-mail.

Vitter is also using his filibuster threat to force McCarthy to pledge that she’ll make specific changes to how the agency is run. The senator wants the EPA to improve the way it deals with Freedom of Information requests and to crack down on employees’ use of personal e-mail accounts for government business. The agency’s previous administrator used a private account under a different name to exchange messages with employees, and Republicans say the practice was meant to hide information from Congress and the public. Vitter also insists that the agency adopt an economic model that industry groups endorse for evaluating the costs and benefits of pollution rules.