President-elect Joe Biden is considering appointing Gina McCarthy, who headed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under former President Barack Obama, as domestic “climate czar” in charge of coordinating climate policies across federal agencies, according to two people familiar with the plan.
Biden is also now considering Michael Regan, an African American who runs North Carolina’s environmental agency, to run the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the two sources said.
If appointed, Regan would be a surprise choice over one-time frontrunner Mary Nichols, who is retiring from the California Air Resources Board, as environmental justice activists and civil rights leaders push for more diversity at the incoming administration.
The Biden transition team did respond to requests for comment. McCarthy, Regan and Nichols did not respond to requests for comment.
Biden has made tackling climate change a pillar of his upcoming administration, seeking to restore the United States as a global leader on the issue while forcing all federal agencies to rethink their roles in tackling the problem.
Biden, the former Democratic vice president under Obama, selected John Kerry to serve as his global climate czar, making him part of the U.S. national security team and tasking him with coordinating with other counties on the environment.
If selected, McCarthy, who currently serves as the president of the Natural Resources Defense Counsel, a leading national environmental group, would serve as the domestic counterpart to Kerry.
Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm is also under consideration, the sources said.
Biden is expected to make a slate of announcements later this week that will be heavily scrutinized by the nation’s environmental groups, the sources say, including his pick to run the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, domestic climate czar and the Interior Department.
The sources stressed the choices have not been finalized and the situation remains fluid.
Nichols was long considered a frontrunner for the EPA but her nomination now looks less likely as the president-elect seeks to diversify his Cabinet appointments, the sources said.
Dozens of environmental justice groups in California recently wrote a letter to Biden opposing Nichols, saying she too often sided with the industry. In an interview with Reuters last week, Nichols defended herself against the criticism, calling it “disappointing” and saying she stands by her work and the people who carried it out.
In recent days, Regan has emerged as a surprise leading candidate, according to three sources familiar with the process. Regan has run the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality since 2017 and has been part of the push to hold big companies like Duke Energy accountable for pollution.
Under his leadership at the North Carolina agency, Duke Energy agreed to the largest coal ash cleanup in the United States in January.
(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw; Valerie Volcovici contributed reporting from Washington DC; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Stephen Coates)