Obama in Cabinet room
Who will the president pick to fill all these empty chairs?
The White House

Much of President Obama’s green team is moving on to greener pastures. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced last month that she’ll be retiring soon, and Energy Secretary Steven Chu is expected to follow suit. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is said to be mulling over his future. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood appears to be undecided as well, and there’s a chance that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack could leave.

Lesser-known but still critical positions are up in the air too. Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has announced her resignation. Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and Heather Zichal, Obama’s top climate and energy advisor, might also be leaving their posts.

Who could be tapped to fill the gaps?

EPA administrator

Outgoing Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) is rumored to be a frontrunner for the top EPA job. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has more:

Gregoire was director of Washington’s Department of Ecology before being elected Attorney General in 1992. The future governor made her reputation by negotiating a Hanford nuclear waste cleanup agreement with the first Bush administration, which has held up in court through efforts by the feds’ to wiggle out of their commitments. …

Gregoire has a mixed record on the environment as Washington governor.

She can sound like John Muir in speeches to Western Washington audiences, and launched an ambitious Puget Sound cleanup effort early in her first term as governor. She was a leader in the Western Climate Initiative launched by western governors (including Republican Jon Huntsman of Utah) with backing from Canadian premiers.

She has, however, been allied with shipping, agriculture and economic interests in the struggle over what the federal government will be required to do in restoring salmon runs to the Columbia River system.

The Washington Post reports that other contenders “include current deputy EPA administrator Bob Perciasepe, assistant administrator Gina McCarthy and Mary Nichols, who chairs the California Air Resources Board.”

The Hill adds more names to the list: “Kathleen McGinty, who served as secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection from 2003-2008 and before that led the White House Council on Environmental Quality under Clinton. … Ian Bowles, who was formerly secretary of energy and environmental affairs in Massachusetts and served in President Clinton’s White House; Bradley Campbell, who is the former head of New Jersey’s environment department and also served as a regional administrator in Clinton’s EPA; and Daniel Esty, the commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.”

Zichal could also be in the running, “and is thought to have the support of some environmental groups.”

Whoever is chosen as the eventual nominee will be in for a tough confirmation fight. “Whether Senate Republicans actually deliberate over an EPA nominee rather than conduct witch trials will be an early indication of whether the Senate can function at all,” said Paul Bledsoe, formerly an environmental aide in Clinton’s White House and a Senate staffer.

Energy secretary

From The Hill:

[P]ossible Chu successors include former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D); former Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.); Center for American Progress founder John Podesta, who was President Clinton’s chief of staff; and Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.

Others include former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D); and Stanford University’s Dan Reicher, who formerly headed climate and energy initiatives for Google and served on Obama’s transition team.

Check out Grist’s recent interview with Granholm (and don’t miss video at the bottom of her very enthusiastic speech at the Democratic National Convention).

InvestorPlace reports that “finance titan Tom Steyer is on the short list of contenders” too. “Steyer is stepping down as head of Farallon Capital Management, one of the world’s largest hedge funds. … Steyer is a major Democratic donor who has a long history of investing in the green-energy sector and advocating for pro-environment policy in California. He delivered a speech on energy policy at the Democratic National Convention this year, championing Obama’s green agenda, and has been advising the president on how to sell the green agenda as a tool for job creation.”

Two more names: Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman and Susan Tierney, assistant secretary of energy policy in the Clinton administration.

Interior secretary

Gregoire and Dorgan could also be candidates for the Interior job, NBC News reports, as could newly retired Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.).

“Two other names being floated to lead at Interior are John Berry and Raul Grijalva,” according to InvestorPlace:

Berry is currently the head of the Office of Personnel Management, which means he oversees the administrative aspects of the federal workforce. He’s a career bureaucrat, having served as the undersecretary for policy at Interior as well as head of the National Zoo.

Raul Grijalva, a Democratic representative from Arizona, is being championed by environmental groups as the ideal choice for the Interior Department. If Grijalva is picked, we may see even more of an emphasis on clean energy and conservation on public lands than we saw under Salazar. Grijalva was on the short list for Interior four years ago and was passed over because he was considered too liberal and not fully supportive of Obama’s desire to continue drilling while also pursuing renewables. Consequently, his nomination is likely a pipe dream for progressives, as he would have a very difficult time being confirmed by the Senate.

Transportation secretary

The Hill reports:

Secretary Ray LaHood had previously indicated that he did not intend to stay into President Obama’s second term, but told Politico last month that he would discuss his future with the president after the “fiscal-cliff” negotiations.

Obama is expected to pressure LaHood to stay onboard.

“If he goes,” says National Journal, “Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is seen as the frontrunner for the job. Other candidates include Democratic former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and former Rep. Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio.”

Villaraigosa has been a big booster of mass transit and biking in L.A.; he told Grist all about it in two separate interviews last year.

Agriculture secretary

National Journal reports:

Tom Vilsack could stick around to help implement Obama’s “detailed plan” for the rural economy. But he may also be replaced by someone with closer ties to Capitol Hill — someone like former Democratic Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Kent Conrad of North Dakota, or current Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana and the chamber’s only working farmer. 

Other positions, including chief of staff

If Sutley does leave the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes could replace her.

And there’s another job that’s important to greens, even though it’s not a green job. The White House chief of staff holds a lot of power in setting the president’s agenda and making key decisions, and Obama may nominate his current chief of staff, Jack Lew, to be treasury secretary. If he does, reports Bloomberg, the leading candidates to replace Lew would be “Denis McDonough, currently a deputy national security adviser, and Ron Klain, who had served as Vice President Joe Biden’s chief of staff.” For what it’s worth, Klain served as chief of staff to former Vice President Al Gore. Deputy chiefs of staffs Nancy-Ann DeParle and Alyssa Mastromonaco could also be in the running, The Hill reports. So could Valerie Jarrett, currently a senior adviser and close confidant of Obama.

We’ve already written about the green angles on State nominee John Kerry and Defense nominee Chuck Hagel.

We’ll keep you posted as this giant game of politico-musical chairs continues …