Gina McCarthy tapped to head EPA, Ernest Moniz to lead Energy Department


McClatchy Newspapers

President Barack Obama turned to experienced political hands Monday to fill out his cabinet, choosing a top-ranking official at the Environmental Protection Agency as the nation’s top clean air and water watchdog, and a veteran of the Clinton administration as his energy secretary.

Gina McCarthy, currently an assistant administrator in charge of air and radiation, would replace Lisa Jackson, the well-liked but controversial EPA leader in Obama’s first term. Obama tapped Ernest Moniz, a physicist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to replace Steven Chu at the Department of Energy. Both must be confirmed by the Senate.

Obama, who held his first Cabinet meeting of his second term Monday, also announced a new budget director: Sylvia Mathews Burwell. He said his EPA and Energy Department picks will be charged with investing in American energy and creating jobs and economic opportunity, as well as “doing everything that we can to combat the threat of climate change.”

“They are going to be a great team,” Obama said. “And these are some of my top priorities going forward.”

In his first term, the EPA implemented standards for mercury pollution, tightened rules on soot pollution and established tougher emissions standards for new power plants. It also set higher fuel-economy standards for automobiles, which the administration boasts will do more to reduce global greenhouse-gas emissions than any action taken by other nations.

McCarthy, who played a major role in developing the tougher fuel standards, earned praise from clean air advocates for her work on air pollution. She’s a former state environmental regulator who once worked for Obama’s 2012 opponent, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

Environmental groups praised McCarthy’s appointment. They wanted the EPA to be led by someone who would uphold the agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act and they got that with McCarthy, said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

She “knows what it means to protect our air, water, land and health and stand up to the growing threats we’re seeing from climate change,” Beinecke said.

But industry offered fainter praise, as did lawmakers from states where energy dominates the economy. The president of the American Petroleum Institute, Jack Gerard, said in a statement he was concerned about pending regulations that could raise the price of gasoline, rules for greenhouse gas emissions from refineries, and new ozone standards.

"President Obama says his top priority is creating American jobs, and we will continue working with the EPA and the administration to help avoid jeopardizing that goal," he said. "The problem is that EPA, in many cases, is not proposing regulations that meet this goal."

Republican lawmakers, who’ve attacked the EPA for what U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue called “burdensome permitting requirements,” are expected to put up more of a fight. McCarthy’s predecessor was a lightning rod for criticism from manufacturers and utilities, who’ve are concerned the agency has overstepped its regulatory authority.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said she wanted the leaders of both agencies to consider energy security.

“I’m willing to work with both DOE and the EPA to address the shared challenges we face, but it truly must be done in a way that recognizes the benefits of an energy supply that is not only clean, but also abundant, affordable, diverse and secure,” she said. “My support will depend on both nominees demonstrating that they can lead DOE and the EPA in a way that restores balance to these objectives.

It was no coincidence that Obama announced his top energy and environment picks the same day as he announced a new director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Congress wasn’t able to pass cap-and-trade legislation in 2010 and is unlikely to take up a sweeping climate bill again. So the challenging and politically fraught work of curtailing greenhouse gas emissions likely will continue within the executive branch, where the Office of Management and Budget will be a key part of the deliberations.

The administration now is finalizing emission rules for new power plants. Its next fight could be writing rules that would target existing power plants, which will pose the political challenges of regional energy interests as well as pressure from big polluters and the influential energy sector.

Moniz, whom Obama called “another brilliant scientist,” drew a ringing endorsement from the nuclear power industry, but is opposed by some environmental groups for describing domestic natural gas production, which commonly uses a process known as fracking, as a bridge to lower-carbon sources of energy.

“The next Secretary of Energy will play a key role in deciding how we address climate change, and President Obama needs to appoint an actual proponent of green energy to guide our nation’s energy future,” said Wenonah Hauter, director of the environmental group Food & Water Watch.

Moniz served as both a scientific adviser and an undersecretary in the Energy Department during President Bill Clinton’s administration. In his time at the Department of Energy, he oversaw science and energy programs and led a comprehensive review of nuclear weapons stockpile stewardship. He also served as the secretary’s special negotiator for Russian nuclear materials disposition programs.

Email:; Twitter: @erikabolstad

Read more Politics Wires stories from the Miami Herald

A portrait of North Korean leader Kim Jung Un posing with a North Korean gold medalist in Judo, An Kum Ae, decorates the walls of a local gymnasium, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014 in Pyongyang, North Korea. In just over a week, North Korea will send its top athletes to win gold for their leader in what could well be the biggest sporting event of their lives and a major propaganda campaign for their nation, the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.

    North Korea athletes on mission for political gold

    It's a hot, sunny morning at the newly refurbished Sosan Football Stadium in Pyongyang. Two women's soccer teams head to the sidelines of the artificial turf, leaving only a row of archers to continue their practice before several senior sports ministry officials. So sure are they of their aim — or, perhaps, so impromptu is the decision to have them shoot here — that there are no barriers behind the targets, posted on simple squares of straw.

  • 6 candidates in running for equestrian presidency

    Six candidates — all from Europe — are in the running to replace Princess Haya of Jordan as president of the International Equestrian Federation.

FILE - This Aug. 12, 2014 file photo shows a healthcare worker walking near a Ebola isolation unit wearing protective gear against the virus at Kenema Government Hospital in Kenema, Sierra Leone. Federal researchers next week will start testing humans with an experimental vaccine to prevent the deadly Ebola virus. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced Thursday that it is launching the safety trial on a vaccine developed by the agency’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and GlaxoSmithKline. They will test 20 healthy adult volunteers to see if the virus is safe and triggers an adequate response in their immune systems.

    Ivory Coast will allow Sierra Leone team in

    The Ivory Coast government decided late Monday to allow Sierra Leone's team to enter the country, giving the go-ahead for an African Cup qualifier after fears over Ebola put the game and Ivory Coast's place in the tournament in doubt.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category