Will climate skeptics, Sarah Palin snag top Trump jobs?

By E&E News staff | 11/16/2016 01:40 PM EST

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is often mentioned as a possible nominee for a top resources or energy post in the Trump administration.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is often mentioned as a possible nominee for a top resources or energy post in the Trump administration. Photo by Gage Skidmore, courtesy of Flickr.

Will U.S. EPA be led by a climate change skeptic? Could an oil tycoon soon lead the Energy Department? Might Sarah Palin become Interior secretary?

The rumor mill is churning as energy and environmental insiders speculate about who might be in line to get top jobs in the Trump administration. Unlike previous administrations, President-elect Donald Trump isn’t coming into office with a cadre of longtime political allies, making it tougher to predict his picks for prominent agency posts.

In the wake of recent big shakeups on Trump’s transition team — he recently replaced transition leader Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey with Vice President-elect Mike Pence — questions abound over whether the operation has been set back in its schedule and is reconsidering decisions for personnel on the transition team and in the administration.


But Trump said today reports about discord in the transition — including a New York Times story saying the operation is in a "state of disarray" — are inaccurate. "The failing @nytimes story is so totally wrong on transition. It is going so smoothly," Trump wrote on Twitter.

Trump also wrote, "Very organized process taking place as I decide on Cabinet and many other positions. I am the only one who knows who the finalists are!"

Overall, Trump must fill about 4,000 political jobs within the federal bureaucracy. Some energy experts predict he’ll opt for a combination of former officials who are well-versed in government bureaucracy and outsiders from industry and other groups with an eye toward "draining the swamp," which Trump has pledged to do.

The Trump team aimed to strike such a balance when making its first two White House appointments by picking political insider Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, to be chief of staff and naming right-wing favorite Steve Bannon of Breitbart News the chief strategist.

A source close to the transition team said the operation plans to announce picks for the top Cabinet positions by the end of this month. After those key jobs are designated, the team will begin filling lower-level jobs, a process that will likely stretch well past Trump’s inauguration. Transition team members have been collecting names for top jobs, while suggestions are pouring in from lawmakers, advocacy groups and job seekers.

Here’s a look at the names that are circulating for key energy and environmental posts within the Trump administration:


It’s still unclear how the administration will organize top staff within the White House, but the president-elect is certain to have a team of close aides working to coordinate energy policy throughout the government. Among those top players will be the Council on Environmental Quality chairman, the leader of the Office of Management and Budget and the head of OMB’s regulatory review shop, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Trump may also opt to have an adviser dedicated to energy and environmental issues.

CEQ or White House energy adviser

  • Mike Catanzaro, energy lobbyist, former GOP energy aide in the House and Senate and former EPA associate deputy administrator during the George W. Bush administration.
  • Marty Hall, vice president of energy policy at FirstEnergy Corp. and former CEQ chief of staff during the George W. Bush administration.


  • Eric Ueland, Republican staff director on the Senate Budget Committee, former lobbyist at the Duberstein Group and chief of staff to former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).
  • Robert Grady, venture capitalist who worked in OMB during the George H.W. Bush administration.
  • Bill Hoagland, senior vice president of the Bipartisan Policy Center and former longtime Senate Republican staffer.


  • Heidi King, global director of environmental risk at GE Capital and former OMB regulatory policy analyst.
  • Jeff Rosen, partner at Kirkland & Ellis and former general counsel at the Transportation Department and OMB during the George W. Bush administration.
  • Marcus Peacock, professor at George Washington University and former EPA deputy administrator during the George W. Bush administration.
  • Paul Noe, vice president for public policy at the American Forest & Paper Association and former OIRA counselor during George W. Bush administration.
  • Al McGartland, director of the National Center for Environmental Economics at EPA.


EPA is responsible for drafting and enforcing regulations to ensure clean air and water. The agency also has a huge role on the international stage, participating in climate change negotiations such as last year’s agreement reached in Paris. President-elect Trump, however, is no fan of the agency and is expected to tamp down on its regulatory authority once in office.


  • Patrick Morrisey, West Virginia attorney general.
  • Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma attorney general.
  • Craig Butler, director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Kathleen Hartnett White, former chairwoman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
  • Jeff Holmstead, partner at Bracewell LLP and former George W. Bush administration EPA assistant administrator for air and radiation.
  • Roger Martella, partner at Sidley Austin LLP and former George W. Bush administration EPA general counsel.
  • Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.).
  • Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.).
  • Mike Catanzaro, energy lobbyist, former GOP energy aide in the House and Senate and former EPA associate deputy administrator during the George W. Bush administration.
  • Marcus Peacock, professor at George Washington University and former EPA deputy administrator during the George W. Bush administration.
  • Ann Klee, GE vice president for environment, health and safety and former George W. Bush administration EPA general counsel.
  • Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
  • Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R).
  • Ben Grumbles, secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment and former George W. Bush administration EPA water chief.

Assistant administrator for air and radiation

  • William Kovacs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce senior vice president for the environment, technology and regulatory affairs.
  • Margaret Caravelli, partner at Balch & Bingham LLP and former Senate Environment and Public Works Committee lead counsel.

Assistant administrator for water

  • Susan Bodine, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee chief counsel and former EPA assistant administrator for solid waste and emergency response.
  • Bruce Rastetter, CEO of the Ames, Iowa-based Summit Agricultural Group.
  • Gary Black, Georgia agriculture commissioner.
  • Brent Fewell, founder of the Earth & Water Group and former official in EPA’s offices of Water and Congressional and Intergovernmental Relations.

Assistant administrator for chemical safety and pollution prevention

  • Dimitri Karakitsos, partner at Holland & Knight and former Senate Environment and Public Works Committee aide.

General counsel

  • Chris Horner, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.


From reviving the long-stalled Yucca Mountain waste repository in Nevada to supporting nuclear and coal-fired generation and research, big shakeups are possible at the Energy Department. The agency head has a huge job — certain branches of the department oversee the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpiles, national labs and energy research — and the secretary must manage 13,500 employees and 104,000 contractors.


  • Harold Hamm, Continental Resources Inc. CEO.
  • Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.).
  • Robert Grady, venture capitalist who worked in OMB during the George H.W. Bush administration.
  • David Hill, executive vice president and general counsel for NRG Energy Inc., who was DOE’s general counsel during the George W. Bush administration.
  • J. Larry Nichols, co-founder of Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy Corp.
  • James Connaughton, an energy industry lawyer and the former George W. Bush administration environmental adviser.

Offices of Nuclear Energy or Environmental Management

  • Ed Davis, president of the Pegasus Group.

National Nuclear Security Administration

  • Paul Longsworth, Fluor Corp. executive, former NNSA’s deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation in the George W. Bush administration.


Republicans are eyeing a leadership change at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a powerful but little-known agency that oversees the nation’s power grid, interstate natural gas pipelines and hydropower projects. Republicans will be able to fill three slots on the bipartisan commission. While FERC is not an environmental regulator, a new chairman could support fossil fuels when setting the agency’s agenda. Several names for new commissioners are already circulating.

  • Neil Chatterjee, a longtime energy aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
  • Kenneth Minesinger, a shareholder and co-chairman of Greenberg Traurig LLP’s elobal energy & infrastructure practice.
  • Richard Lehfeldt, an energy lawyer at the firm Crowell & Moring and former counsel for the House Energy and Commerce Energy and Power Subcommittee.
  • Bill Marsan, executive vice president and general counsel of American Transmission Co.


Republicans could soon fill two openings on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees the nation’s existing reactors and new license applications. Many sources said NRC Commissioner Kristine Svinicki, the sole Republican on the panel whose term ends in the summer of 2017, could be picked to lead the agency. In recent months, Republicans have focused on staffing at the agency as reactors close, a review of the Yucca Mountain waste repository could restart and the pace increases for the licensing of new reactor designs. Rumors are already flying about possible nominees.

  • Annie Caputo, a former Exelon Corp. executive and former aide to Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.).
  • Larry Brown, a lawyer and professor at George Washington University Law School and former member of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board.


The State Department’s Office of Global Change supports the top U.S. climate negotiator in leading international negotiations under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and other global bodies. A source on Trump’s transition team has said the administration is exploring steps to terminate U.S. membership in the UNFCC or rescind U.S. participation in the Paris deal.


  • Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
  • Rudy Giuliani, former New York City mayor.
  • Newt Gingrich, former House speaker.
  • John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. under President George W. Bush and American Enterprise Institute scholar.

Special envoy for climate change


Interior is a sprawling department with 10 agencies that handle public lands, natural resources and Native American issues. Its mission can be contradictory; while some offices focus on leasing land for drilling, others protect wilderness and wildlife. Trump has proposed expanding oil and gas development on public lands, and he is expected to turn to industry groups and George W. Bush-era officials to fill key positions within Interior, particularly those with roles in energy management, such as the Bureau of Land Management. For more conservation-focused agencies, such as the Fish and Wildlife Service, Trump could look to state agencies with conservative reputations.


  • Rep. Rob Bishop, Utah Republican and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.
  • Sarah Palin, former Alaska governor and vice presidential nominee.
  • Rep. Lummis.
  • Jan Brewer, former Republican governor of Arizona.
  • Robert Grady, Gryphon Investors partner and official in George H.W. Bush’s White House.
  • Continental Resources CEO Hamm.
  • Forrest Lucas, president of Lucas Oil Products.

Assistant secretary for land and minerals management

  • Luke Johnson, policy director at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck and former deputy director of policy and programs at BLM.
  • Joe Leimkuhler, vice president of drilling at LLOG Exploration Co.
  • Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association and past director of the former Minerals Management Service.
  • Michael Olsen, senior director at Statoil and former Interior deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management.

Fish and Wildlife Service director

  • Greg Sheehan, the director of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.
  • Nick Wiley, executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
  • David Chanda, director of the New Jersey Division of Fish & Wildlife.

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

  • Holly Hopkins, senior policy adviser at the American Petroleum Institute and past chief of staff for the Minerals Management Service.
  • Jennifer Thompson, senior adviser of government relations at Shell Oil Co. and former special assistant for Alaska affairs at Interior.

Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement

  • Joe Leimkuhler, vice president of drilling at LLOG Exploration Co.

Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement director

  • Steve Gardner, president and CEO of the science and engineering consulting firm ECSI LLC.


President-elect Trump has some big plans for the nation’s transportation system. Trump has promised to trigger $1 trillion in infrastructure investment with a bill proposed during his first 100 days that would give $137 billion in tax credits to private companies interested in building and managing highways and other types of infrastructure. Trump’s transition team has experience in infrastructure building. It’s being led by former Virginia DOT Secretary Shirley Ybarra, who used private-public partnerships in building toll roads. The team also includes Martin Whitmer, who served as DOT deputy chief of staff under George W. Bush and now lobbies on behalf of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, among others.


  • John Mica, outgoing Florida Republican congressman, member and former chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
  • Mark Rosenker, former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.


The choice for an agriculture secretary comes down to whether to pick someone familiar with the U.S. Department of Agriculture or to pick an outsider who might shake up the agency. A possible clue is that the Trump transition team member in charge of USDA policy is a former USDA deputy chief of staff, Michael Torrey, who runs a Washington lobbying firm focusing on agriculture, risk management and financial services.


  • Charles Conner, head of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and former USDA deputy secretary under President George W. Bush.
  • Charles Herbster, who headed Trump’s agriculture advisory policy and owns a large cattle operation in Nebraska.
  • Sam Clovis, co-chairman of the Trump campaign and key adviser on rural issues.
  • Sam Brownback, Republican governor of Kansas and former senator from Kansas.
  • Sid Miller, agriculture secretary in Texas and a Trump loyalist.
  • Sonny Perdue, former governor of Georgia.
  • Bruce Rastetter, CEO of the Summit Agricultural Group and president of the Iowa Board of Regents.

USDA sub-Cabinet positions or head of the U.S. Forest Service

  • Melissa Simpson, former deputy undersecretary for natural resources and environment in the George W. Bush administration.
  • Steve Brink, vice president of public resources for the California Forestry Association.
  • Corbin Newman, director of forest management in the Forest Service in the George W. Bush administration.
  • Rep. Bishop.

Reporters Hannah Northey, Kevin Bogardus, Emily Yehle, Tiffany Stecker, Marc Heller, Ariel Wittenberg, George Cahlink, Hannah Hess, Corbin Hiar, Robin Bravender and Dylan Brown contributed.