WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) — President-elect Joe Biden is considering appointing Gina McCarthy, who headed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the Obama administration, as domestic “climate czar” in charge of coordinating climate policies across federal agencies, according to two people familiar with the plan.
Biden is also considering Michael Regan, an African American who runs North Carolina’s environmental agency, to run the EPA, the two sources said.
If appointed, Regan would be a surprise choice over onetime front-runner Mary Nichols, who is retiring from the California Air Resources Board, as environmental justice activists and civil rights leaders push for more diversity in the incoming administration.
The Biden transition team did not respond to requests for comment. McCarthy, Regan and Nichols also 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, who was vice president under President Barack Obama, selected former Secretary of State John Kerry to serve as his global climate czar, making him part of the U.S. national security team and charging him with coordinating with other counties on the environment.
If selected, McCarthy, who currently serves as president of the Natural Resources Defense Counsel, a leading national environmental group, would serve as the domestic counterpart to Kerry. The position would not require U.S. Senate confirmation.
Kerry and Brian Deese, Biden’s pick to head the National Economic Council, both worked under Obama and helped negotiate the Paris climate accord, which the United States exited under Republican President Donald Trump. Biden has vowed to rejoin the pact.
McCarthy was key to writing the Clean Power Plan, a signature Obama-era measure that imposed the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from U.S. power plants.
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Biden is expected to make a slate of announcements this week that will be heavily scrutinized by the nation’s environmental groups, the sources say, including his pick to run the EPA, domestic climate czar and the Interior Department.
The sources said the choices had not been finalized and the situation remained fluid.
Nichols’ 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.
In recent days, Regan has emerged as a leading EPA 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 Corp 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.
Collin O’Mara, a Biden adviser and chief executive of the National Wildlife Federation, remains a possibility for the EPA, the sources said.
(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw; Additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici in Washington Editing by Soyoung Kim and Peter Cooney)