What two things do you say to Barack Obama’s climate and energy czar?
“Who are you?” and “Catch ya later.”
You might never have heard the name Heather Zichal (then again, being a Grist reader, you might very well have).
Zichal is the White House official who has done much of the president’s heavy lifting on climate policy. Which, despite promises made by Obama during the 2008 election campaign, had not been a particularly admirable amount. But then June 2013 rolled around, and Obama unveiled a far-reaching climate plan that had been crafted by Zichal — who by then had risen to become his senior climate and energy adviser. Zichal was also instrumental in developing new federal standards for the fuel efficiency of cars.
Sounds like preeminent, high-profile work, right? Wrong. Despite the headiness of the role, Zichal was never given the authority, profile, or resources that such important work deserves. Al Gore made a veiled reference to her post in June, complaining that Obama had just “one person” working on climate change “who hasn’t been given that much authority.”
And now, after five years, it’s splitsville for Zichal and the president. It’s not quite clear just yet what gig Zichal has lined up — but Reuters is reporting that it will be “non-government” work.
The Washington Post reports that the White House wanted Zichal to stay, but that it didn’t do enough to convince her to stick around:
In an effort to keep Zichal on board, White House officials raised the possibility of her chairing the Council on Environmental Quality in the event that its chair, Nancy Sutley, would leave, according to people familiar with the decision who demanded anonymity in order to discuss sensitive personnel issues.
Sutley’s departure has not been announced, but the people familiar with the situation said she would step down before the end the year.
In a statement, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough praised Zichal’s work.
“Heather is one of the president’s most trusted policy advisers,” McDonough said.
Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy said Zichal was “tremendously influential,” but that her departure will not affect how the administration’s climate action plan moves forward.
Obama has become adept at losing top environmental officials. Zichal joins former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in parting ways with Obama during his second term.