Latest Obama cabinet appointments: Energy and EPA

President Barack Obama announced two new cabinet appointments yesterday: Ernest Moniz as secretary of Energy and Gina McCarthy as Environmental Protection Agency administrator. Bleeding Heartland posted background on Moniz and McCarthy here; I’ve added more information after the jump.

McCarthy has served as the EPA’s top air quality official since 2009. Because she is well-qualified for the position and committed to making the country’s air cleaner, environmentalists are excited about this choice. I hope that Obama is not merely “promoting a climate change champion” to soften the blow when he approves the KeystoneXL pipeline. The State Department’s draft report on KeystoneXL whitewashed the impact that project would have on the environment.  

Also yesterday, Obama formally nominated Sylvia Matthews Burwell to be the new director of the Office of Management and Budget. The White House announcement notes, “She served as Deputy Director of the OMB from 1998 to 2001, as well as Deputy Chief of Staff to the President and Chief of Staff to the Secretary of the Treasury during the Clinton administration.” UPDATE: I should have added that Burwell is a former president of the Gates Foundation’s Global Development Program, and that her most recent job was running the Wal-Mart Foundation.

The president has not yet announced his picks to run the departments of Labor, Transportation, or Commerce.

From Kate Sheppard, Enviros Cheer Obama EPA Pick:

As the assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, McCarthy has helped implement a raft of new or improved national standards for pollutants such as mercury, sulfur and nitrogen oxide emissions, and soot, and she oversaw the first-ever limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants. […]

Her appointment to the top spot at EPA is seen by enviros as good news for the future of greenhouse gas regulations. After rolling out emission limits for new power plants last year, the EPA is now expected to set rules for existing power plants-a huge task given the number of old, dirty plants around the country. That’s just one item on a long list of environmental regulations that were delayed until after the 2012 election. Now McCarthy will manage the implementation and/or drafting of these regs.

Another reason enviros are cheering McCarthy’s appointment is her bipartisan history. Before coming to the EPA, McCarthy worked for Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as his undersecretary for environmental policy. After that, she worked for Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell, another Republican.

From Susie Cagle’s profile of McCarthy for Grist:

McCarthy is squarely on the side of fighting climate change through sometimes aggressive policy-making. Her work in Massachusetts helped lead to the landmark Supreme Court case in 2007 that gave the EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. […]

The National Journal has a good profile of “pragmatic” but “aspirational” McCarthy and her “ready sense of humor and tough-talking style.” […]

McCarthy has a history of climate action, but also a “>history of supporting natural gas and oil drilling à la Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy. Industry is a little uncomfortable with McCarthy because of her cozy relationships with environmental causes, but some environmentalists question McCarthy’s cozy relationships with industry.

From Grist’s backgrounder on Ernest Moniz:

How do environmental groups feel about his nomination?

A charitable way to describe how they feel would be: mixed.

As noted above, his program at MIT receives a lot of money from fossil fuel interests. And Moniz has been unabashed in his advocacy of the use of natural gas as a “bridge” fuel and even some expansion of nuclear power. (You can read his thoughts on the latter here.)

The Hill has a small collection of quotes from disaffected greens, but the better overview comes from Inside Climate News, which has a good article on Moniz’s background. It starts with his thoughts on natural gas.

In December, while speaking at the University of Texas at Austin, Moniz warned that while natural gas could reduce carbon emissions by displacing coal-fired electricity, its increasing use could also slow growth in the clean energy sector.

“When it comes to carbon, [natural] gas is part of our solution at least for some time,” said Moniz, who served as undersecretary of energy during the Clinton administration. “And we should take advantage of the time to innovate and bring down the cost of renewables. The worst thing w[ould] be is to get time and not use it. And that I’m afraid is where we are.”

This isn’t incorrect, mind you – natural gas has spurred a drop in carbon emissions and is certainly going to be part of the mix. But it’s not something that most environmental organizations are currently championing, especially given the process usually used to extract that gas: fracking.

Moniz has accepted fracking as a necessary-but-unnecessarily-polluting evil.


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