Obama picks agency veteran for deputy administrator

Showing a continued focus on climate change issues, President Obama yesterday named U.S. EPA veteran Jon Cannon to be the agency's new deputy administrator.

Cannon, a member of Obama's EPA transition team and a University of Virginia law professor, authored a controversial, six-page memo on greenhouse gas regulation while serving as general counsel for EPA during the Clinton administration.

Known as the Cannon memo, it prompted a little-known Washington nonprofit to petition EPA to use its Clean Air Act authority to regulate greenhouse gases -- a request that Bush administration officials would later deny, leading the case to the Supreme Court (Greenwire, Nov. 24, 2008).

The 2007 Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts v. EPA required EPA to determine whether GHG emissions endanger public health and to regulate them if they are found to be harmful. It sparked a firestorm of controversy after EPA failed to complete its Supreme Court-mandated review of GHG emissions by the end of 2007 amid accusations from Democrats that the White House had suppressed agency findings.

"Naming Professor Cannon to be deputy administrator is further evidence the stars are lining up in the Obama administration to take quick action under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases," said Roger Martella, who served as EPA general counsel under President George W. Bush.


Martella said Cannon's memo has been cited by the Obama administration as being consistent with the policies it intends to pursue regarding the regulation of GHG emissions. "It wouldn't surprise me if Jon takes things to the next level and works with the administration to try to implement the options for pursuing Clean Air Act regulation of greenhouse gases," he said.

Republicans' questions

Cannon's views on the regulation of GHG emissions could prompt questions from some Republican senators as he goes through the confirmation process.

Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said he looks forward to working with Cannon to address the many challenges at EPA and is particularly interested in Cannon's viewpoint on the regulation of GHGs under the Clean Air Act.

Inhofe and other Republicans opposing a carbon cap-and-trade system also are likely to ask Cannon for more details about the practical implications of using a cap-and-trade system. A portion of Cannon's 1998 memo notes that while EPA has the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions, the available regulatory powers do not easily lend themselves to establishing market-based national or regional cap-and-trade programs for emissions from electric power generating sources.

Cannon's current views on GHG regulation under the Clean Air Act or via congressional legislation appear unlikely to pose a significant obstacle to his nomination.

"There are two schools of thought on this," Martella said. "One is that it's a good idea to move forward under the Clean Air Act, and the other is it's a bad idea. ... But, at the same time, from a legal perspective the Supreme Court addressed the issue in Massachusetts. I think even those skeptics understand that Jon's positions are consistent with the Supreme Court's view."

A Democratic aide said the EPW Committee will move forward with Cannon's nomination hearing as quickly as possible.

Widespread praise

Cannon has served under Republicans and Democrats and garners praise from both sides of the aisle.

He worked at EPA under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush before spending three years as the agency's general counsel under Clinton. At the agency, he has held a variety of senior management positions including deputy general counsel for litigation and regional operations, deputy assistant administrator for civil enforcement, deputy assistant administrator for the Solid Waste Emergency Response Office (OSWER) and chief financial officer.

Former air chief at EPA, Jeff Holmstead, who served under President George W. Bush and now heads Bracewell & Giuliani's Environmental Strategies Group, said he may not always agree with Cannon but believes he is an able and thoughtful lawyer. "For people who care about sensible environmental policy, he's a good choice," he said.

"Jon's probably one of the most qualified candidates for that job you can think of on anyone's list," Martella said. "He has served several different positions at EPA and since then he has established a stellar reputation as a law professor at the University of Virginia, so he brings a lot of broad substantive knowledge and also established management skills to the position."

Cannon also was lauded by his colleagues at the University of Virginia Law School, where he heads the environmental and land-use law program. He recently took a leave of absence from the school to work on a National Academy of Sciences' climate project.

Cannon "has built a first-rate environmental law program at Virginia," said Dean Paul Mahoney. "He is wonderful with students, and he has broad contacts within the environmental law and policy communities and is an intellectually dynamic person."

Between stints at EPA, Cannon served as senior counsel at the environmental, land use and litigation law firm Beveridge & Diamond.

John Guttman, a partner at the firm who has known Cannon for nearly 30 years, described him as a brilliant and ethical lawyer who is completely dedicated to public service. "He's an A-plus lawyer and an A-plus person," Guttman said. "I'm quite confident in saying he would be devoted to the furtherance of the president's agenda on climate change and other issues."

Cannon also received praise from environmentalists. "I think he will do an excellent job at EPA," said Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, which represents state and local air pollution regulators. "He's a very talented lawyer and will represent the agency well."

Cannon received a bachelor's degree from Williams College in 1967 and a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1974.

Click here to view the Cannon memo.

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