Energy & Environment

Biden taps former EPA head Gina McCarthy as domestic ‘climate czar’: reports

Aaron Schwartz

President-elect Joe Biden has tapped former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head Gina McCarthy to oversee domestic climate policy in his administration, according to multiple reports.

McCarthy, who served as EPA chief during former President Obama’s second term, will take a role designed to serve as a counterpart to special envoy John Kerry, who will represent the U.S. as a “climate czar” on international matters.

Like Kerry, McCarthy’s role as White House Climate Policy Coordinator is a first of its kind position. Based in the White House, McCarthy will help oversee Biden’s commitment to ensure a “whole of government approach” on climate change, considering climate action within every government agency. She will also help him follow through on a pledge to help the U.S. reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

McCarthy comes to the role from the Natural Resources Defense Council. She has used her perch at one of the nation’s largest environmental groups to serve as a vocal critic of numerous Trump-era environmental rollbacks.

“I’m here to remind the political leadership at the EPA that what they do matters, and it’s time for them to step up and do their jobs. Just do your jobs. Right now this administration is trying to systemically undo health protections by running roughshod over the law,” McCarthy said at a House hearing last year where a bipartisan group of EPA administrators questioned the agency’s direction under the Trump administration.  

The Biden transition team did not immediately respond to request for comment from The Hill. 

The domestic climate role came into sharper focus after Biden tapped Kerry to join his administration — prompting pushback from progressive groups who argued a second role was needed to shepherd climate policy. 

“Biden needs a climate czar with direct access to the president and needs to wield considerable influence in decision-making across policy, budget-setting, and program implementation across all departments and agencies,” Sunrise Movement, a progressive youth climate movement, wrote on Twitter just hours before the McCarthy news broke.

McCarthy’s role won’t require Senate confirmation, sparing her a repeat of the lengthy battle with the Senate she faced when Obama nominated her in 2013. 

McCarthy oversaw the EPA as it rolled out some of Obama’s most ambitious and controversial environmental policies, including the Waters of the United States rule and the Clean Power Plan, both of which have since faced lengthy court battles.

Prior to leading the agency, McCarthy was assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation and served as commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection.  

According to The Washington Post, Ali Zaidi, New York’s deputy secretary for energy and environment who was also seen as a contender for the job, will serve as McCarthy’s deputy.

Zaidi, who is now New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) top climate adviser, previously worked on environmental issues at the Office of Management and Budget during the Obama administration.

McCarthy had endorsed Biden in a campaign event alongside former EPA administrators of both parties, calling his climate plan “the boldest in its ambition and urgency of any that any president has ever outlined.”

“It promotes workers and environmental justice to create good quality jobs. It creates equitable economic opportunities,” she added. “It puts clean energy as the path forward because he recognizes that that is our future both environmentally and to address climate change and to grow an economy that is beneficial for everyone.”

Updated at 7:38 p.m.

Tags Andrew Cuomo Biden transition Gina McCarthy Joe Biden John Kerry

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