What a Cabinet shake-up could mean for energy and the climate
Now that the occupant of the Oval Office is settled, speculation turns to the room down the hall. When Obama is sworn in next January, it will be to work with a potentially much different Cabinet. One area in which there might be some turnover: Cabinet members who work on energy. Specifically, the secretary of the interior, secretary of energy, and administrator of the EPA — each of whom has at some point discussed leaving the administration.
Finding itself suddenly in a relatively quiet political moment, Politico has written not one but two stories on possible Cabinet changes. This one details each of the the three posts above. This one walks through every Cabinet position, suggesting possible replacements as needed. We’ve pulled the two together.
This is certainly the position about which green groups are most concerned. The current administrator, Lisa Jackson, has been a fierce advocate for toughening pollution standards — regularly, in opposition to the White House.
Jackson has testified before Congress so many times that Republicans have joked she should get her own parking space.
Over the past four years, she has won admiration from the environmental community for imposing tough new clean air regulations, including the first-ever climate rules for new power plants.
But Jackson’s tenure also saw increased concern from the White House about the cost of those regulations. Obama punted the agency’s plans to tighten smog standards last year, dealing a huge blow to environmental and public health groups.
Who might replace her?
Her successors could be current deputy EPA Administrator Robert Perciasepe, current top EPA air pollution official Gina McCarthy or former Clinton White House aide Ian Bowles, who ran the energy and environmental department in Massachusetts.
Interestingly, McCarthy also once served as a top environmental staffer to another politician: Mitt Romney. Don’t let that color your opinion; McCarthy is widely respected for her work combatting air pollution.
Obama’s announcement of Nobel Prize winner Steven Chu to lead the Department of Energy was widely celebrated, but Chu quickly became a target of the House GOP.
Chu weathered hours of intense questioning about the Energy Department’s loan guarantee program at the height of House Republicans’ Solyndra investigation.
And Republicans have dredged up years-old quotes to argue that Chu wants gasoline prices to rise, a claim the secretary has denied.
The Solyndra investigation, of course, was a complete load of garbage, an attempt last year to create a scandal for a president soon to face reelection. It didn’t work, and the larger cleantech loan program ended up being a tremendous success. But you can’t blame Chu for wanting to do something else.
Who might replace him?
Possibilities here include Cathy Zoi, a former CEO of Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection and Kathleen McGinty, the Clinton-era chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. This could be a private-sector draw too — there’s talk of Lewis Hay of NextEra Energy and Jim Rogers, the head of Duke Energy who was co-chairman of the Democratic convention in Charlotte.
This doesn’t need to be said, but I’ll say it anyway: An appointment of Jim Rogers, who was at the heart of Duke’s weird CEO transition earlier this year, would almost certainly prompt backlash from environmental groups.
As Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar has been under far less attack than Jackson or Chu, but has, according to Politico, discussed leaving his position anyway. He’s been involved in a number of big energy decisions — a new refinery in North Dakota, OKing Shell’s Arctic drilling permits, expanding renewables on public land. With Obama still hewing to an “everything on the table” energy policy, it’s likely his replacement will do the same.
Among those mentioned as replacements:
[H]is deputy, David Hayes, but given that the bulk of Interior jurisdiction land is out West, the department’s a natural home for a Westerner former elected official. Among the options: former North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan, former Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal and soon-to-be former Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire.
Again: It is not clear if any of these three officials plan to leave their posts (willingly or not). And there’s a good reason that the administration may not want them to:
The prospect of grueling confirmation battles with Senate Republicans may make it more difficult for Obama’s energy team to leave. One Democrat said the officials are under “great pressure” not to resign to avoid messy confirmation conflicts.
On the other hand, a confirmation battle over the appointment of a new EPA administrator could be the perfect opportunity to hash out, once and for all, federal advocacy for addressing climate change. And with a new, more Democratic Senate, the timing to win that fight just got better.
This post is part of our November 2012 theme: Post-election hangover — whither the climate?