In brief: Senate confirms picks for Labor, EPA

WASHINGTON – The Senate plugged two more vacancies in President Barack Obama’s second-term leadership team on Thursday, confirming Thomas Perez as labor secretary and Gina McCarthy as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

After months of Democratic complaints that Republicans were stalling Obama’s efforts to staff his administration and the federal courts, the spurt of movement followed a bipartisan deal reached Tuesday. Republicans agreed to allow votes on seven nominations, and Democrats in return shelved efforts to change Senate rules to weaken the minority GOP’s powers.

On Thursday Perez, a child of Dominican immigrants and one-time trash collector, was approved on a party-line 54-46 vote.

Perez has led the Justice Department’s civil rights division for the past four years.

McCarthy was approved 59-40, with six Republicans joining all but one Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, in supporting her. Manchin said the EPA has engaged in an “over-regulatory rampage” against the coal industry, which is a pillar of West Virginia’s economy.

Minutes earlier, senators voted 69-31 to overcome GOP objections that had mired McCarthy’s nomination since spring, nine votes more than the 60 required to halt filibusters.

Workers and hikers struck by lightning

WELLINGTON, Colo. – Nine people working at a Colorado farm were injured by a lightning strike Thursday, two of them critically and four seriously, a fire official said.

The incident came as two other lightning strikes in Colorado and Montana left people injured, and as firefighters battled lightning-sparked wildfires across the West.

Wellington Fire Protection District Chief Gary Green said the critically injured farm workers weren’t responding appropriately to questions and had weak muscles and tingling or loss of feeling after the strike. However, everyone was breathing and had a pulse, he said. Three workers were able to leave in personal vehicles.

Also Thursday, a 65-year-old woman was struck by lightning in Rocky Mountain National Park.

The National Park Service said the woman was taken to Estes Park Medical Center. Her condition wasn’t immediately released.

In Montana, two adults and a child were injured Wednesday after lightning struck near them as they hiked on a trail in Glacier National Park.

The three remained hospitalized Thursday in serious but stable condition, officials at Kalispell Regional Medical Center said.

Glacier Park spokeswoman Denise Germann said the man and woman, both 23, and the 11-year-old boy initially were unconscious and not breathing after the lightning strike. She said other visitors in the area quickly responded.

University approves Napolitano to helm

SAN FRANCISCO – The University of California’s governing board voted Thursday to appoint Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano as the first female president of the 10-campus system despite objections to her record on immigration.

Napolitano said her experience as a Cabinet secretary and governor of Arizona prepared her for the university system with 240,000 students.

“Let me acknowledge that I am not a traditional candidate for this position,” the 55-year-old Napolitano told the regents. “I have not spent a career in academia. But that said, I have spent 20 years in public service advocating for it.”


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