KATHLEEN McGINTY, as head of Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection, has distinguished herself as a leader in energy policy and been an outstanding steward of our environment. Now her reconfirmation is being threatened by partisan and racial politics.

A Philadelphia native and graduate of St. Joseph's University, McGinty rose to head the Council on Environmental Policy in the Clinton administration before becoming the first woman to head the Pennsylvania DEP in 2003.

As DEP secretary, McGinty successfully led the charge for the passage of important environmental legislation and regulations such as Growing Greener, Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards, mercury regulations and the Clean Vehicles Program.

In these battles, she incurred the wrath of powerful Senate Republicans like Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee Chairwoman Mary Jo White, a conservative from northwestern Pennsylvania.

Recently, she also incurred the wrath of some African-American Democratic senators for her criticism of Public Utilities Commission Chairman Wendell Holland, an African-American.

Her criticism of Holland was justified. His votes against a sustainable-benefits fee, which would fund renewable-energy projects, and his public criticism of the Rendell administration's mercury regulations run counter to good environmental policy.

Most recently, McGinty has been accused of running afoul of the state ethics laws because the Department of Environmental Protection awarded grants to a group that hired her husband as a consultant. These charges are without merit and are being promoted by those who oppose her on political grounds.

During the Rendell administration, the DEP has awarded $2.7 million to the Pennsylvania Environmental Council while her husband, a highly respected Berkeley Ph.D, received a mere $3,747 in consulting fees. It is disingenuous to suggest that the council received DEP grants because of McGinty's husband's small role there as a consultant. In fact, the Rendell administration has awarded substantially less to the council than did the previous administration and rejected some $4.9 million in funding requests.

WHAT WAS EXPECTED to be a fairly easy confirmation of McGinty now appears to be in jeopardy.

Confirmation requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate. The nomination was originally scheduled for a vote on April 25, but it was canceled due to the controversy. Another vote is expected by tomorrow.

Katie McGinty has been the architect of one of the most progressive state energy policies in the nation. She is also poised to guide Pennsylvania on a cutting-edge climate change initiative.

The loss of Katie McGinty would be a devastating blow to environmental progress in Pennsylvania. People concerned with Pennsylvania's environment need to let their state senators know how they feel.

And the state Senate needs to put politics aside and confirm Katie McGinty immediately. *

State Rep. Gregory S. Vitali is a Democrat who represents the 166th District in Delaware County.