Gina McCarthy is leaving. Who will take his place?


Gina McCarthy’s planned exit from her position as the White House’s top domestic climate policy adviser has sparked speculation about who will fill their shoes with much of President Joe Biden’s unfinished climate agenda.

McCarthy has not publicly announced a time frame for her departure, but she is expected to step down in the coming weeks (climate wire, April 4). His exit would create an opening for a policy expert tasked with coordinating the administration’s efforts to address climate change across the federal government.

Energy and environment insiders are already talking about who comes next and how that person will affect Biden’s climate plans. They could be instrumental in trying to get reluctant lawmakers to compromise on sweeping legislation, or – perhaps more likely given the legislative deadlock – they could be central in coordinating the climate action using executive authorities that do not require the cooperation of Congress.

E&E News spoke to seven insiders about a possible replacement for McCarthy. These people were granted anonymity to speak about a personal decision that has not been publicly announced.

Among the names proposed to take over the post: Ali Zaidi, McCarthy’s deputy; climate guru John Podesta, who played a similar role in the Obama White House; Christy Goldfuss, who led the Obama administration’s Council on Environmental Quality; former Obama energy secretary Ernest Moniz; White House climate aide David Hayes; and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.

Zaidi is widely seen as the favorite for the job, but that’s not a sure thing.

McCarthy responded last month to press reports about his impending departure in Tweeter that she had not resigned and that she had “a lot more work to do”. She also said in an April 22 interview that she won’t be in the White House “until the end of my life,” and she suggested she plans to stay involved in climate politics after leaving the office. administration (green wireApril 22).

Asked about a departure date and plans for McCarthy’s replacement, White House spokesman Vedant Patel pointed to McCarthy’s tweet. He said in an email “there are no plans for him to leave or anything – so your story and reporting is premature.”

When she steps down, insiders say it will be difficult to take McCarthy’s place, given her experience leading the EPA and her influence with environmental groups. She left her position as president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council to join the Biden White House.

“I think the person who’s coming up behind her should acknowledge that she’s not Gina McCarthy,” said Kevin Minoli, a former EPA career attorney who worked with McCarthy. “She’s a respected and well-known person. The next person probably won’t be as well-known as her.

Since news broke she was considering the exit, McCarthy has been active on Twitter, posting information about the activities and actions of the EPA, DOJ, and the Departments of Interior and Energy.

“We have a pretty full plate,” a senior administration official said in a press call last month.

The official highlighted implementation of bipartisan infrastructure law, executive authorities to reduce methane emissions and updated efficiency standards.

“We are making tremendous progress,” the official said.

The next climate “tsar”

Under the Obama administration, the White House climate adviser — or “tsar,” as he was often called — was held for two years by another former EPA boss, Carol Browner. When Browner left in 2011, his former deputy Heather Zichal became the White House’s top climate aide.

A similar succession could take place if McCarthy’s deputy, Zaidi, gets the job. He was New York’s deputy energy and environment secretary before joining the Biden team. He spent the Obama administration working on energy and climate issues at the White House and the DOE.

He also had short stints in law firms and drew criticism from the Greens for his past ties to fossil fuel interests. Observers note that a key part of the role is outreach to environmental groups. Even still, the job was described as his to waste.

Podesta is another possible candidate to replace McCarthy inside Biden’s West Wing. He’s a Democratic insider with environmental policy chops who’s done one version of the job before.

The founder of the Center for American Progress and former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton joined the Obama White House in 2014 and oversaw the climate portfolio until he left to work on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. He has deep ties to green groups and is well known on Capitol Hill.

Another name proposed to replace McCarthy is Goldfuss, who works with Podesta at CAP; she is the organization’s senior vice president of energy and environmental policy. As Executive Director of CEQ, she worked on the Obama administration’s climate initiatives. She also served as deputy director of the National Park Service.

They are both close to the administration. Both Podesta and Goldfuss attended rallies at the Biden White House last year, visitor records show. Podesta has met Biden and McCarthy at group meetings; Goldfuss also attended an event with Biden.

A CAP spokesperson declined to say whether Podesta or Goldfuss were in the running for the White House climate gig.

White House watchers also threw Moniz’s name. He is the founding director of the Energy Initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and returned to college after leaving the Obama administration.

In an interview last year, Moniz laid out his ideas on where the Biden administration should focus its climate and energy efforts.

People familiar with his nonprofit Energy Futures initiative noted that the organization is currently deeply involved in several ongoing energy research projects and said such a move would be surprising.

Picking Moniz for the job would also anger environmentalists who have warned Biden against appointing him energy secretary because of his fossil fuel ties (thread of energyNovember 25, 2020).

Granholm, Biden’s energy secretary and former governor of Michigan, was mentioned as another possible candidate. A major obstacle to his nomination for the White House job would be that Biden would lose a Senate-confirmed Cabinet secretary, opening a window where the president would be forced to invest political capital to get another secretary confirmed.

Hayes, Biden’s special aide for climate policy, was also named as a potential successor to McCarthy. He previously directed the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at New York University Law School and served as Deputy Secretary of the Interior during the Obama administration.


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