Lisa Jackson’s decision to step down as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency sets off a Washington guessing game over who President Barack Obama will pick to replace her.
Jackson’s move is not a surprise; she has been a lightning rod for criticism lobbed by Republicans and oil industry leaders who insist the EPA has too aggressively tried to regulate pollution from drilling, refining and burning fossil fuels.
Any EPA administrator _ including Jackson _ also is subject to criticism for weakening environmental protections or going too slowly to advance new safeguards.
During Jackson’s tenure, congressional aides sometimes joked that the EPA head spent more time on Capitol Hill than the lawmakers who frequently called her to testify.
The next EPA administrator is likely to oversee high-profile policy governing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and refineries and low-sulfur transportation fuel. The agency could play a key role in regulating the use of hydraulic fracturing technology being used to unlock natural gas and oil previously trapped in dense rock formations.
Any potential replacement — no matter how well liked — could be in for a tough confirmation battle, as senators use debate over the nominee to highlight their opposition to the Obama administration’s environmental policies.
Back in October, Center for American Progress Action Fund fellow Dan Weiss predicted that “Senate Republicans could wage pitched confirmation battles to bully the administration into weakening public health safeguards.” He added:
“The Republicans may use this opportunity to squeeze commitments from the president to weaken public health protections he put in place during the first term.”
Obama might seek to elevate existing agency leaders and tap state regulators to fill the top EPA post.
Here is a look at some of the contenders:
- Bob Perciasepe, deputy EPA administrator. Perciasepe has years of experience at the agency, where he also ran the air and water programs two separate times under former President Clinton. Previously, Perciasepe was the chief operating officer at the National Audubon Society. Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, said Perciasepe is “a smart, pragmatic guy” who is “probably not likely to get too much opposition from industry.”
- Mary Nichols, the head of California’s Air Resources Board. Nichols is another veteran of Clinton’s EPA. She may relish her role advancing California’s climate change program too much to want to hop into the EPA administrator hot seat. Picking Nichols would be a sign that Obama wants to get more aggressive on environmental issues during a second term.
- Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA’s office of Air and Radiation. In her current role, McCarthy is a regular witness on congressional hearing stands, where she has defended the Obama administration’s approach to greenhouse gas emissions and cutting smog.
- Daniel Esty, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection: Esty collaborated with Gov. Dannel Malloy to develop a clean energy bank in the state that aims to lure private capital to developing alternative energy technologies and could be a model for a federal investment program.
- Kathleen McGinty, former secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection: McGinty has been rumored as a possible EPA administrator before; her name came up when Obama was filling his cabinet four years ago. In Pennsylvania, McGinty drew praise for successfully pushing new mercury emission controls. As a former chairwoman of the Council on Environmental Quality, McGinty was a top environmental adviser to former President Bill Clinton. Most recently, she has been involved with a clean tech firm and served on an Energy Department advisory board focused on hydraulic fracturing and natural gas drilling.