Top Obama climate adviser resigning

Carol Browner, the senior climate and energy policy adviser to President Obama, will resign soon, a White House official said Monday.

She will "stay on as long as necessary to ensure an orderly transition," the official said.

Browner, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Clinton, worked behind the scenes during the last two years on passing comprehensive climate legislation. 

Her departure comes as the chances have dimmed that the Congress will pass such legislation.

Her time in the Obama administration was not without controversy.

She faced criticism from the GOP for her role in shaping the administration's policy agenda. Republicans, noting that Browner was not subject to Senate confirmation, argued that Browner had too much control over Obama's agenda.

Browner counts among her accomplishments an agreement among the federal government, California and industry groups to tighten fuel economy standards.

 "She is proud of the administration’s accomplishments  – from the historic investments in clean energy included in the Recovery Act to the national policy on vehicle efficiency that will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil and lower consumers’ prices at the pump," the official said.

President Obama remains committed to addressing key energy and environment issues, the official stressed. "The president’s commitment to these issues will of course continue but any transition of the office will be announced soon," the official said.

While the House passed climate legislation in 2009, the Senate ultimately failed to pass a bill in the 111th Congress, tabling one of the administration's leading priorities.

Now, it appears nearly impossible that Congress will pass a cap-and-trade bill in the near future, though key lawmakers have expressed interest in moving a narrow energy bill.

Joe Romm, who runs a climate-change blog affiliated with the liberal Center for American Progress, called the resignation a “bombshell” given the earlier speculation that Browner was heading for another White House job.

“[T]he catastrophic failure of the administration to pass a climate bill — heck, the failure to even get a vote in the Senate or one damn speech from the President on the gravest threat to the health and well-being of our children and future generations — must have taken its toll,” he wrote Monday night on the blog Climate Progress.

“And that’s without factoring in months and months of dealing with the BP oil disaster or the prospect of two years of a hostile House of climate zombies,” added Romm, who was a senior Energy Department official under President Clinton. “Climate zombies” is a phrase some liberals use to describe global warming skeptics.

Conservative pundit Michelle Malkin, meanwhile, called Browner's resignation a “Pyrrhic victory unless the Republicans are able to hold her accountable for all her dirty green deeds.”

“The GOP must not let her slip out the door quietly without answering for her abuse of power under oath and in the full light of public hearings,” Malkin wrote on her website Monday night.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), when he was campaigning for the top committee slot last year, vowed to haul Browner before Congress. His office could not immediately be reached for comment.

Scott Segal, an attorney with the firm Bracewell & Giuliani, suggested Browner’s upcoming exit signals a more pro-industry tilt by the White House.

“Her departure may be part of a legitimate effort to pay careful attention to addressing some of the real regulatory obstacles in the way of job creation in the United States,” said Segal, who works with utilities and oil refiners.

He adds: “In the next year, the Administration will evaluate a suite of regulatory proposals aimed at the power and refining sectors that may undermine reliability and affordability of power, and place millions of energy, refining and manufacturing jobs at competitive disadvantage. Infusing the White House with some new and fresh viewpoints makes sense.”

Browner's exit comes amid a major staff shakeup in the White House. Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina is moving to the president's reelection campaign and White House spokesman Robert Gibbs will also leave soon.

Browner was said to be a candidate for the deputy chief of staff position but her departure is ending that speculation.

This post was last updated at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Ben Geman contributed.