Energy & Environment

Adviser behind controversial EPA policies returns as agency chief of staff

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A former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official who worked on some controversial administration actions is returning to the agency Monday. 

Mandy Gunasekara, who previously led the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, tweeted a picture of herself being sworn in as Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s chief of staff. 

“Officially back in action!” she wrote. 

An EPA spokesperson also confirmed to The Hill that Gunasekara would start as chief of staff on Monday. 

In her previous role at the agency, Gunesakara helped write regulations to ease pollution controls for coal-fired power plants and vehicle emissions. She was also involved in the Trump administration’s effort to leave the Paris climate accord.

The Affordable Clean Energy rule, a replacement for the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, aims to give states more time and authority in the implementation of new technology to ease net emissions from coal-fired plants.

In an interview with The Washington Examiner published Monday, Gunasekara defended that rule as the “first ever legally viable greenhouse gas standard for coal plants.”

“I don’t think we get the credit for that,” she said. 

Gunasekara also pushed back on the more dire predictions of climate change, saying, “I don’t think it is catastrophic, but it’s very important and [an issue] we will continue to address through pragmatism.”

Last year, a group of thousands of scientists from around the world said the Earth faces a “climate emergency.”

After leaving the agency in 2019, Gunasekara founded Energy 45, a nonprofit group whose website says it is “dedicated to informing the public about the environmental and economic gains made under the Trump administration.”

The site also stated that Gunasekara was “the chief architect of the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord.”

The Washington Post first reported last month that Gunasekara would be returning to the agency following the departure of former chief of staff Ryan Jackson, who left the agency to work for the National Mining Association. 

Gunasekara, like Jackson and Wheeler, has also worked for Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.). 

—Updated at 1:07 p.m.

Tags Andrew Wheeler James Inhofe

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