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The Replacements: EPA Administrator Edition

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano, Department of the Interior and Environmental Protection Agency

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson receive a brief from Rear Adm. Mary Landry during a survey of the Deepwater Horizon incident. April 30, 2010. Photo by PO3 Cory Mendenhall, PD.

With a number of key appointees resigning in President Obama’s second term, it’s time for everyone’s second favorite parlor game – who are the replacements?

Yesterday, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson announced that she will resign her position shortly after President Obama’s State of the Union address next month. Under her tenure, the EPA enacted the first-ever greenhouse gas standards for vehicles, cuts in mercury and other toxic pollution from power plants and a tighter limit on soot. She has pressed for limits on emissions form coal-fired power plants and on the dumping of mine waste into streams and rivers near mines. While many in the environmental community have praised her advocacy, many Congressional Republicans and business groups have gone so far as to suggest that Jackson was waging a “war on coal.”

In a statement, President Obama praised Jackson:

Under her leadership, the EPA has taken sensible and important steps to protect the air we breathe and the water we drink, including implementing the first national standard for harmful mercury pollution, taking important action to combat climate change under the Clean Air Act, and playing a key role in establishing historic fuel economy standards that will save the average American family thousands of dollars at the pump while also slashing carbon pollution.

With Jackson’s departure, here are some top picks of whom President Obama might enlist as next EPA administrator.

  1. Recent Democratic Party convert Charlie Crist. Crist’s environmental policies as Governor of Florida were some of the key his ouster from the Republican Party. Crist has been a long-time champion of environmental protection. He lobbied against the coal industry, proposed vehicle emission standards and orchestrated to remove big sugar from the Everglades. Crist was also a high-profile campaign surrogate for Obama’s reelection and spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte in support of the president. Of course, Senate Republicans might not take to kindly to Crist’s recent party defection, making it difficult for him to get confirmation.
  2. EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe. Perciasepe has a relatively cordial relationship with both business and environmental communities. He is also a career staffer, which might make a Senate confirmation easier than other potential political candidates. Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, said Perciasepe is “a smart, pragmatic guy” who is “probably not likely to get too much opposition from industry.” Another in-house appointee the President might also wish to promote is Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA’s office of Air and Radiation. On the plus side, she has lots of experience on the Congressional hearing stand defending the Obama administration’s greenhouse gas emission and smog-cutting policies.
  3. Brad Campbell. Campbell has already been mentioned in trade papers as a possible candidate to replace Jackson. Campbell was Clinton-era EPA appointee and succeeded Lisa Jackson as head of the New Jersey Environmental Protection Agency.
  4. Former secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection Kathleen McGinty. In Pennsylvania, McGinty successfully pushed new mercury emission controls. She was a top environmental adviser to former President Bill Clinton and recently served on an Energy Department advisory board focused on hydraulic fracturing and natural gas drilling. McGinty was on Obama’s short list for the appointment four years ago.
  5. Other state level officials Obama might tap include Mary Nichols, the head of California’s Air Resources Board, and Daniel Esty, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Nichols served as Assistant Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Air and Radiation program under President Clinton. Currently her main priority is steering California’s landmark climate change legislation forward. Esty worked with Gov. Dannel Malloy to develop a clean energy bank in the state that could be a model for a federal program.

Certainly Crist would be the more interesting choice for Obama. And either Crist or Nichols would signal that the Obama administration plans to pursue a more aggressive approach to environmental issues in his second term. Of course with the high level of partisanship in the political environment, not to mention the recent treatment of other possible Obama appointees by the Senate, the President could just leave an acting administrator in charge of the EPA for the time being or make a recess appointment down the road.

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