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With climate team taking shape, Biden weighs picks for EPA, Interior

With climate team taking shape, Biden weighs picks for EPA, Interior
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President-elect Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden prepares to confront Putin Ukrainian president thanks G-7 nations for statement of support Biden aims to bolster troubled Turkey ties in first Erdoğan meeting MORE is zeroing in on nominees for two final posts as his climate team takes shape.

Biden is expected to pick Gina McCarthyGina McCarthyOvernight Energy: Company officially nixes Keystone XL pipeline | Government watchdog finds failings, but no Trump influence, in clearing of Lafayette Square Democrats blast Biden climate adviser over infrastructure remarks Democrat predicts 'big fight' over carbon pricing in the Senate MORE to serve as the first-ever White House climate policy coordinator and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) to lead the Department of Energy.

But deliberations over who will lead the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have stalled amid concerns over top contenders for the roles.

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The two departments would be expected to carry out the bulk of regulations needed to forward Biden’s climate plans, and the team has faced heavy lobbying both for and against his picks.

At Interior, Biden has faced escalating pressure to select Rep. Deb HaalandDeb HaalandRising crime rejuvenates gun control debate on campaign trail It's Congress' turn to stop Arctic Refuge oil drilling Overnight Energy: Biden seeks to reassert US climate leadership | President to 'repeal or replace' Trump decision removing protections for Tongass | Administration proposes its first offshore wind lease sale MORE (D-N.M.), a progressive who would make history as the first Native American Cabinet member.

Sen. Tom UdallTom UdallSenate Democrats befuddled by Joe Manchin Study: Chemical used in paint thinners caused more deaths than EPA identified Oregon senator takes center stage in Democratic filibuster debate MORE (D-N.M.) is also under consideration, as is former Interior Deputy Secretary Michael Connor, who like Haaland would be the first Native American to lead the department.

At the EPA, new names have been circulating in the last week. Michael Regan, the head of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, and Richard Revesz, a professor and former dean at the New York University School of Law, are reportedly under consideration to lead the agency after opposition arose to front-runner Mary NicholsMary NicholsWith climate team taking shape, Biden weighs picks for EPA, Interior OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden reportedly selects Granholm as energy secretary | Trump administration narrows protection of habitat for endangered species | Administration rolls back efficiency standards for showerheads, washers and dryers The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - US inoculations begin; state electors certify Biden; Barr is out MORE.

Nichols, California’s top air regulator, was expected to face resistance from Senate Republicans, but a letter from a coalition of 70 environmental and social justice groups complaining she did not do enough to consider their voices when working to craft the state’s cap and trade program has reportedly diminished her prospects. 

National Wildlife Foundation President Collin O’Mara and former EPA regional administrator Heather McTeer Toney are also being weighed for the job.

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“Everyone's waiting — that's where we are today,” said Aaron Weiss, deputy director of Center for Western Priorities, a public lands watchdog group that monitors the Interior Department.

Selecting McCarthy, a former EPA administrator known for not shying away from political battles, could suggest Biden wants a heavy-hitter within the White House as filling the remaining roles gets complicated. 

Biden has been facing mounting pressure to select a Native American to lead Interior — an agency critics say has often fallen short in its responsibilities to tribes.

But picking Haaland would cut House Democrat’s majority even slimmer. Tapping just two House Democrats has already left the party with its narrowest majority in modern history. 

“That's a question for Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi and Majority Leader [Steny] Hoyer. I don't know what their thinking is in terms of how close is too close,” Weiss said.

A source close to Haaland said the congresswoman is still in consideration for the job and that conversations with the Biden transition team are ongoing.

If Haaland were selected, New Mexico law wouldn't require her to vacate her seat until confirmed for a new position, at which point the state would have a maximum of 91 days to hold an election.

But regardless of any pressure Biden might be facing in the House, Weiss said he has good options.

“At Interior you can't look at Tom Udall or Deb Haaland or Mike Connor and say any of these are going to be a bad choice at Interior.”

Progressives may find fault with Connor, who currently works at WilmerHale. Though his practice with the law firm primarily involves water law, WilmerHale offers legal services to oil and gas companies. 

And at the EPA, the left-leaning groups’ letter may have sunk Nichols, often called the "Queen of Green" over her long career as a regulator both at the EPA and elsewhere.

In a virtual event Tuesday reflecting on Nichol’s career, she appeared to push back on the narrative that she hasn’t been responsive to environmental justice concerns, showing pictures of herself at the 1963 civil rights march and registering Black voters in Tennessee.

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With additional names for the job beginning to circulate, it’s not clear how close the Biden team is to making a decision. But that’s not a concern for some.

“I think he will go with the best, most experienced and effective people he can find,” a former senior Interior Department official said, adding that picking McCarthy and former Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryIn Europe, Biden seeks to reassert U.S. climate leadership Climate progressives launch first action against Biden amid growing frustration What US policymakers can glean from Iceland's clean energy evolution MORE to lead his climate efforts demonstrate that commitment.

“EPA will be critical for repairing the damage done by the Trump wrecking crew and implementing new measures to deal with climate. It is the agencies that will have to implement those policies. His Cabinet picks thus far reflect experience, expertise, and diversity — what he committed to do. President-elect Biden knows how Washington works and what it takes to get things done. He’s assembled a team of proven ‘doers’ while meeting his political commitments.”

Updated at 12:15 p.m.