By Joel Connelly
President Obama is about to nominate outgoing Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire as the new head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to a very private prediction from a very senior source in Washington’s congressional delegation.
Gregoire was director of Washington’s Department of Ecology before being elected Attorney General in 1992. The future governor made her reputation by negotiating a Hanford nuclear waste cleanup agreement with the first Bush administration, which has held up in court through efforts by the feds’ to wiggle out of their commitments.
The administration’s top environmental post became vacant with the recent resignation of EPA administrator Lisa Jackson. A former boss of New Jersey’s environmental agency, Jackson enjoyed an up-and-down ride in the Obama administration.
The EPA has begun to set emission standards for power plants that emit greenhouse gases, and Jackson was a player in setting new standards that will double the mileage efficiency of new cars and SUV’s — arguably the administration’s chief environmental accomplishment.
Still, the White House undercut Jackson by pulling back new standards for ozone pollution: Ozone is the chief cause of smog in urban areas. The proposed EPA standards were subject to furious resistance from the National Association of Manufacturers.
Three Democratic women governors — Gregoire, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano — came together for a 2008 Gregoire fundraiser in Seattle. All were early backers of Obama. Gregoire endorsed the future President on the eve of Washington’s precinct caucuses: Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., were co-chairs of Hillary Clinton’s Washington campaign.
Sebelius is now Secretary of Health and Human Services, and architect of the Obama administration requirement that contraception be part of health insurance plans offered by employers to employees. Napolitano is Secretary of Homeland Security.
Gregoire has a mixed record on the environment as Washington governor.
She can sound like John Muir in speeches to Western Washington audiences, and launched an ambitious Puget Sound cleanup effort early in her first term as governor. She was a leader in the Western Climate Initiative launched by western governors (including Republican Jon Huntsman of Utah) with backing from Canadian premiers.
She has, however, been allied with shipping, agriculture and economic interests in the struggle over what the federal government will be required to do in restoring salmon runs to the Columbia River system.