Who will lead Obama's EPA?

The scramble is on to fill key environmental positions in the Obama administration.

A day after winning the presidential election, President-elect Barack Obama yesterday named 13 people to his official transition team, which will be based out of the General Services Administration in Washington. Behind the scenes, Obama also handed out several important roles to help shape various policy plans at U.S. EPA, the Energy Department and other agencies. Those jobs could lead in turn to key appointments.

For the transition team, Obama named three co-chairs: former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta, Chicago lawyer Valerie Jarrett and Peter Rouse, the chief of staff in Obama's Senate office. Former EPA Administrator Carol Browner, former Clinton Commerce Secretary William Daley and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano are on a dozen-person advisory board.

As for day-to-day operations, Obama's Senate legislative director and former Harvard Law School classmate, Chris Lu, will serve as the transition team's executive director. The president-elect also picked Jim Messina as personnel director, meaning the Boise, Idaho, native and former chief of staff to Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) will lead the search for Cabinet-level positions across the government.

Louise Wise will serve as the Bush administration's EPA career liaison to the Obama team. Wise is a principal deputy associate administrator in Office of Policy, Economics and Innovation. EPA Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock also plans to stay on at the agency until a new administrator is sworn in or “until the new team comes in and says they don't need him anymore," EPA spokesman Jonathan Shradar said.


Former Clinton Interior Deputy Secretary David Hayes will be in charge of transition planning for all of the key energy and environmental agencies, including U.S. EPA and the Interior, Energy and Agriculture departments. The transition team also will be split up by individual agencies.

At EPA, Obama has picked Robert Sussman and Lisa Jackson to run what will be a 10-12 person transition team, developing key policy recommendations and also monitoring the status of final Bush administration actions. Other members of the EPA transition team will be named in the coming days, according to two Obama advisers.

Sussman, 61, retired this year after a decade running Latham & Watkins' environmental practice in Washington. He is also a senior fellow at the Podesta-led Center for American Progress. Previously, Sussman served during the first two years of the Clinton administration as deputy EPA administrator.

Jackson, 46, currently serves as administrator of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, though Gov. Jon Corzine (D) two weeks ago picked her to begin serving as his chief of staff starting Dec. 1. Jackson, an engineer, is the first African-American woman to run New Jersey's environmental office.

Jackson also worked at U.S. EPA from 1987 to 2002, both in its headquarters and at its New York City regional offices.

Both Sussman and Jackson immediately jump to the top of the list of possible picks to replace Stephen Johnson as the next EPA administrator, though advisers in the campaign urged caution against making any assumptions.

Other names that continue to circulate: Howard Learner, a longtime Obama environmental adviser and the executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago; Mary Nichols, an appointee of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) who leads the California Air Resources Board; former New Jersey DEP chief Brad Campbell; former Pennsylvania environment secretary Kathleen McGinty; World Resources Institute President Jonathan Lash; and Ian Bowles, the head of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

Campbell, who now runs his own law firm in Trenton, N.J., declined comment yesterday on being included in an EPA administrator shortlist. Several of the other possible EPA picks have also avoided making any direct comments.

RFK rumor

A name that generated a lot of interest yesterday is environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr., son of the late Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of the late President Kennedy and Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. The Politico newspaper quoted unnamed Democratic sources yesterday to say that Obama was seriously considering Kennedy, an officer and attorney for the environmental group Riverkeeper.

Kennedy would bring star power to EPA and giving him the job could be seen as a reward for Sen. Kennedy and Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the slain former president. Both Kennedys endorsed Obama before he had captured the Democratic nomination over New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

But several sources warned against planning now for a Kennedy-led EPA. "It's too early to put much stock in one rumor," one Obama adviser said.

Among the other possible EPA candidates, both Jackson and Nichols have earned kudos for their work implementing their state-led climate change policies. Nichols, a former EPA air pollution director under Clinton, has been working over the last two years to put in place the key pieces of California's landmark climate law.

"She has a lot of experience here," Kevin Fay, president of Alcalde & Fay, a D.C. lobbying firm, and executive director of the International Climate Change Partnership, said yesterday during a panel discussion hosted by the Environmental Law Institute. "She has a lot of experience here. Pretty smart politically. But I don't even know if she's under consideration."

Jackson's recent promotion to work in Corzine's office caught the eyes of one electric utility industry lobbyist. "She's got a great reputation," this source said. "She's earned the respect of Jon Corzine, who's known to be a very hard player."

Obama's EPA pick will face a wide range of challenges, including helping to drive a major shift in global warming policy and also dealing with a raft of Bush-era decisions that have prompted environmentalists' lawsuits.

"There's a lot of smart people out there," Fay said. "I want people who are committed to rebuilding the morale of EPA and thinking smart and creatively both here domestically and around the world."

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