Obama to Name New Climate Change Attack Dog

National Journal

President Obama is expected to nominate Janet McCabe, a deputy administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency's clean air office, as head of that office, according to sources familiar with his thinking. The position would put her at the heart of the president's historic and controversial globalwarming agenda. She would be charged with crafting massive new pollution regulations on the nation's coal-fired power plants – rules that could eventually freeze the nation's coal industry, but also position the U.S. as a global leader on climate change.

An EPA spokesman would not confirm that Obama intends to nominate McCabe.

In a series of impassioned speeches this year, Obama has made clear that he wants to make fighting climate change a cornerstone of his legacy. Just as clear is the certainty that the divided, gridlocked Congress will not pass the sweeping legislation necessary to do that. Instead, Obama will flex his executive muscles, using the authority of the EPA to roll out a series of regulations to slash the nation's carbon pollution and fundamentally reshape the nation's energy sector. The rules are already being met with a swarm of political and legal pushback, Republicans charge that with the climate rules, Obama is waging "War on Coal." Meanwhile, the coal industry is prepared to meet the rules with an onslaught of legal attacks.

That means McCabe, as the expected chief author of the new climate rules, has a heavy and historic lift in front of her. She will step into the shoes of her boss, Gina McCarthy, who last month was confirmed as chief of the EPA. While McCarthy will be the public face of the new climate change regulations, McCabe will act as her right-hand woman, taking on the burden of drafting and legally bulletproofing the rules, as well as working with all the stakeholders they'll affect – states, electric utilities, consumers and environmental advocate.

During Obama's first term, McCarthy held that role, as head of the Office of Air and Radiation, with McCabe as her deputy. Last month, the White House named McCabe as Acting Director of that office. During her tenure, McCarthy won praise from both environmental groups and polluting industries as a straight-talking honest broker who included industry officials in the regulatory process – even if industries didn't always like the outcome.

By all accounts, McCabe is positioned to continue her boss's legacy. Like McCarthy, who served in the environment departments of Connecticut and Massachusetts, McCabe has a background as a state environmental regulator – experience that officials say will be crucial in crafting the new rules, since ultimately the implementation of them will be done by state agencies.

According to her official EPA bio, McCabe, prior to joining EPA in November 2009, was Executive Director of Improving Kids' Environment, Inc., a children's environmental health advocacy organization based in Indianapolis and was an adjunct faculty member at the Indiana University School of Medicine, Department of Public Health. From 1993 to 2005, she held several leadership positions in the Indiana Department of Environmental Management's Office of Air Quality. She was the office's Assistant Commissioner from 1998 to 2005. Before coming to Indiana in 1993, Ms. McCabe served as the Massachusetts Assistant Attorney General for environmental protection and Assistant Secretary for Environmental Impact Review. McCabe graduated from Harvard College in 1980 and Harvard Law School in 1983.

Her experience as a regulator in Indiana will likely serve in her favor. As a state that generates about 90 percent of its electricity from coal, Indiana is expected to be one of the states hardest hit by the climate regulations. Both environmentalists and industry officials say that background has given her a clear understanding of both the economic and regulatory challenges that lie ahead as she writes rules that will crack down on coal – the nation's biggest contributor to global warming pollution.

"She's basically been Gina's right hand and left hand for the last four years," said Frank O'Donnell, president of the group Clean Air Watch. "She's well-positioned to work with Gina on the climate rules. She's got a classically good background on it, having worked in state government both in Indiana and Massachusetts…Indiana may not be ground zero for the coal industry but it's pretty darn close."

Officials at American Electric Power, an Ohio-based electric utility that owns one of the nation's largest fleet of coal-fired power plants, including plants in Indiana, say they are optimistic that McCabe's Midwestern background means that she'll take their industry's concerns under consideration.

John McManus, vice president of Environmental Services for American Electric Power, wrote in an email to National Journal, "We have operations in Indiana so we worked with Janet McCabe when she was with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. She was willing to listen to industry views at that time, and we would hope that if she is named Assistant Administrator for EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, she will continue to be receptive to hearing our opinions about issues and regulations that affect our business."

Experts in environmental regulation said that McCabe will face a huge legal challenge in crafting the climate change regulations, which are in many ways unprecedented in the history of environmental law. But they said McCabe is up to the challenge.

"Janet's wonderful," said Adam Kushner, a partner at the environmental law firm Hogan Lovells, and former director of EPA's Office of Civil Enforcement. "She has a very strong working relationship with Gina. She's very stong on the legal side. Very strong on the public health side. And she knows where all the bodies are buried."

It's likely that McCabe could face a tough Senate confirmation process. Senate Republicans, held up McCarthy's confirmation for over 100 days, and barraged her with over 1,000 questions, as coal and oil state lawmakers attacked the EPA for preparing to issue rules that could kill jobs in their home states. However, even if she fails to win Senate confirmation, it's expected that McCabe could carry out the job with the title of "acting" head of the clean air office.

View Comments (50)

Recommended for You

  • Republicans warn world that Obama U.N. plan could be undone

    By Valerie Volcovici WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration's plan for U.N. climate change talks encountered swift opposition after its release Tuesday, with Republican leaders warning other countries to "proceed with caution" in negotiations with Washington because any deal could be…

    Reuters
  • California getting 'second-hand smog' from Asia, researchers say

    By Sharon Bernstein SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - California is suffering from "second-hand smog" drifting in from Asia and other places, researchers said on Tuesday, even as the state's prolonged drought has made air quality worse. About 10 percent of ozone pollution, the main ingredient in…

    Reuters
  • Hurricane-strength winds pummel Europe, four killed

    By Michael Hogan HAMBURG (Reuters) - At least four people were killed on Tuesday when hurricane-force winds lashed northern Europe in one of the most severe storms in years, forcing flights to be canceled and disrupting road, train and marine traffic. The Dutch meteorological office issued a red…

    Reuters
  • United States sets official strategy for Paris climate talks

    By Valerie Volcovici WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Tuesday published plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions up to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, part of a strategy to generate momentum for a global agreement later this year on combating climate change. The formal…

    Reuters
  • Air and sea traffic disrupted as 120 km winds batter Netherlands

    Spring storms battered the Netherlands with gusts of up to 120 kilometers an hour on Tuesday, causing Amsterdam's Schiphol airport to cancel flights and the closure of two container terminals at the port of Rotterdam. Gale force winds sweeping in from the North Sea disrupted land and marine…

    Reuters
  • Heavy rains trigger flood fears in Kashmir; 17 dead

    By Fayaz Bukhari SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - Heavy rains and a landslide in the Himalayan region of Kashmir killed 17 people, police said on Tuesday, as Indian authorities continued working to rescue stranded villagers, with unseasonal rains raising fears of flash floods in the mountainous north. …

    Reuters
  • Ocean warming suggests 50 percent chance of El Nino-Australia

    By Colin Packham SYDNEY (Reuters) - Recent warming of the Pacific Ocean may signal an El Nino weather event is forming, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology said on Tuesday. Climate models indicate the central tropical Pacific Ocean is likely to continue to warm, with El Nino thresholds to be…

    Reuters
  • Vanuatu risks long-term food insecurity after monster cyclone: U.N.

    By Alisa Tang BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The monster cyclone that hit Vanuatu earlier this month wiped out more than 90 percent of the archipelago's crops, putting its people at risk of a secondary emergency and long-term food insecurity, the United Nations warned on Monday. Tropical…

    Reuters
  • Heavy rains trigger flood fears in Kashmir; six dead

    By Fayaz Bukhari SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) - A landslide in the Himalayan region of Kashmir killed six people and left 10 missing, police said on Monday, as unseasonal rains swept India, damaging crops and raising fears of flash floods in the mountainous north. Hundreds of people fled their homes…

    Reuters
  • Harsh weather cripples fishing and tourism on Cameroon's coast

    By Elias Ntungwe Ngalame KRIBI, Cameroon (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - For over 15 years, Raoul Meno has been fishing the waters off the coastal town of Kribi in southern Cameroon. A bout of persistent heavy rains and surging tides this year has made fishing in Kribi increasingly difficult and…

    Reuters
  • Air Canada plane landed short, hit antennas in Halifax accident

    By Mark Blinch HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (Reuters) - An Air Canada plane that suffered heavy damage in an accident in the east coast city of Halifax on Sunday landed short of the runway and hit an antenna array, losing its landing gear, safety officials said. "They touched down 1,100 feet (335 meters)…

    Reuters
  • U.S. to submit plans to fight global warming; most others delay

    By Alister Doyle and Valerie Volcovici OSLO/WASHINGTON - The United States will submit plans for slowing global warming to the United Nations early this week but most governments will miss an informal March 31 deadline, complicating work on a global climate deal due in December. The U.S.…

    Reuters
  • Modi's popularity in rural India punctured by discontent, suicides

    By Mayank Bhardwaj VAIDI, India (Reuters) - Over a dozen debt-laden farmers have committed suicide in recent weeks in India, and discontent in many rural areas against government policies is turning into anger against Prime Minister Narendra Modi less than a year after he swept into office. …

    Reuters
  • Chile desert rains sign of climate change: chief weather scientist

    By Rosalba O'Brien SANTIAGO (Reuters) - The heavy rainfall that battered Chile's usually arid north this week happened because of climate change, a senior meteorologist said, as the region gradually returns to normal after rivers broke banks and villages were cut off. "For Chile, this particular…

    Reuters
  • Mexico unveils national strategy for Paris climate talks

    By Valerie Volcovici WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Mexico on Friday said it will cap its greenhouse gas emissions by 2026, becoming one of the first countries to formally submit its national climate plan to the United Nations ahead of a climate summit in Paris in December. Mexico's Foreign and…

    Reuters
  • Fed must take account of global economy in U.S. outlook: Yellen

    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The Federal Reserve must take the global economy into account when judging the U.S. domestic outlook, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said on Friday, noting that a stronger dollar buoyed by weakness abroad may restrain U.S. exports Still, she added, U.S. consumer…

    Reuters
  • In reversal, crash-hit Lufthansa agrees to two-crew in cockpit rule

    Lufthansa said on Friday it would introduce new rules requiring two crew members in cockpits at all times, a swift reversal after its CEO said such a change was not needed despite the crash at its Germanwings subsidiary. The European Union said it would now advise all EU airlines to require two…

    Reuters
  • Sierra Leone capital 'eerily quiet' amid Ebola lockdown

    By Umaru Fofana FREETOWN (Reuters) - The capital of Sierra Leone was "eerily quiet" on Friday at the start of a three-day national lockdown aimed at accelerating the end of an Ebola epidemic in the worst affected country. Liberia has just one known case left and the three countries have set a…

    Reuters
  • Lufthansa to toughen up cockpit rules

    Lufthansa said it will introduce new rules requiring two crew members to be in the cockpit at all times after one of the pilots at its Germanwings unit crashed a plane in the French Alps. Prosecutors believe Andreas Lubitz, 27, locked himself alone in the cockpit of the Airbus A320 on Tuesday and…

    Reuters
  • Poland to charge two Russian officials over Kaczynski plane crash

    Poland said on Friday it would bring charges against two Russian air traffic controllers over a 2010 plane crash which killed then Polish president Lech Kaczynski, a move likely to damage bilateral relations already strained by the Ukraine crisis. Prosecutor Ireneusz Szelag from the District…

    Reuters