By Justin Sink - 03/04/13 03:45 PM EST
President Obama on Monday nominated Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Ernest Moniz as his next Energy secretary.
At an event Monday at the White House, Obama heralded the picks as a “great team” that would address his “top priorities going forward.”
McCarthy, currently the EPA’s assistant administrator for air and radiation, would replace former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who left the agency in February.
Moniz, Obama’s Energy pick, is a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he directs the MIT Energy Initiative. He has long been seen as the front-runner to replace outgoing Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
The selections of Moniz and McCarthy will round out Obama’s second-term energy and environment team, following his nomination last month of Sally Jewell to head the Interior Department.
The picks come as green groups are putting pressure on Obama to do more to confront global warming and Republicans are vowing to push back against environmental regulations they say are burdensome to business.
McCarthy led Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection from 2004 to 2009. She also held senior roles in Mitt Romney’s administration when he was Massachusetts governor a decade ago, but her selection for the top EPA job is likely to bring criticism from GOP lawmakers.
As the EPA’s senior air regulator, she has played a key role in the crafting of air pollution rules that have drawn praise from public health groups, but Republican opposition.
The new rules restrict toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants, set new limits on oil-and-gas emissions and propose greenhouse gas rules for new plants.
Green groups are urging the administration to take executive action on climate — and if confirmed, McCarthy would find herself at the center of a fight over the EPA’s carbon emissions rules.
Environmentalists are urging the agency to move ahead with new regulations on existing plants, a move strongly opposed by the GOP and many business groups.
On Monday, Obama did not mention McCarthy's ties to Romney, but said that while his nominee has "earned a reputation as a straight shooter, she welcomes different points of view."
"As top environmental official in Massachusetts and Connecticut, she helped design programs to expand energy efficiency and promote renewable energy," Obama said. "As assistant EPA administrator, Gina's focused on practical, cost-effective ways to keep our air clean and our economy growing."
Moniz, however, will face some opposition from green groups over his support for natural gas and the controversial drilling procedure known as “fracking.”
The Energy nominee has argued that natural gas can play a role in helping curb greenhouse gas emissions, but that stance has angered activists who believe fracking harms the nation's water supplies.
The U.S. branch of Greenpeace criticized Moniz when reports last month suggested he could be a possible replacement for Chu. But many of the largest and most politically connected environmental groups, including the National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund, have not expressed concerns over his selection.
During the nomination ceremony Monday, the president stressed Moniz's familiarity with the department — he served as under secretary of Energy under former President Clinton — and his work at MIT developing new green technologies.
"Ernie knows that we can produce more energy and grow our economy, while still taking care of our air, our water and our climate," Obama said.
Moniz is already among Obama’s outside advisers on energy and is a member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. He also served on an administration “blue ribbon” commission on nuclear waste policy.
McCarthy is also the latest woman to be appointed to a department-leading position, following Jewell’s selection and Obama’s nomination of Sylvia Mathews Burwell for director of the Office of Management and Budget.
—Meghashyam Mali contributed
This story was first posted at 7:06 a.m. and has been updated.