Trump looks to Bush-era for new head of U.S. environmental agency
By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President-elect Donald Trump’s short-list of contenders to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency includes two current energy industry lobbyists who held leading roles there under Republican President George W. Bush, according to two sources with knowledge of the list.
The potential choices dovetail with Trump’s vow to slash U.S. environmental regulation and resist regulatory efforts to combat global climate change, positions Trump shares with his Republican predecessor in the Oval Office.
Top contenders for the job include Jeff Holmstead, an energy industry attorney at Bracewell law firm who was assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation from 2001 to 2005, and Mike Catanzaro, a lobbyist for CGCN who was an associate deputy administrator at the EPA from 2005 to 2007, according to the sources.
A third potential pick is Robert Grady, a venture capitalist at Gryphon Investors who served as associate director for Natural Resources at the Office of Management and Budget in former President George Bush’s 1989-93 administration, the sources said.
“I think they are trying to find a mix of outsiders who want to see big changes made and experienced folks who know how the Agency works and can help them make those changes,” a former Bush administration official who asked not to be named told Reuters.
Myron Ebell, a prominent climate change skeptic who runs the Competitive Enterprise Institute libertarian think tank, has been leading Trump’s EPA transition team, but sources said he is not likely to become the administrator.
Ebell declined to comment.
Given the complexities of the agency’s rulemaking procedures, the fact that the administrator would inherit hundreds of restive career agency employees and the constant legal challenges it faces, sources said the Trump administration may decide on more experienced candidates.
“When you are new to D.C. and you’ve never had a job in politics, you rely on the best and the brightest in town,” one of the sources, a Washington-based energy industry lobbyist, said. “And if you’re a Republican, that means you’re probably going to be picking people from the last Republican administrations.”
Catanzaro, who is helping lead Trump’s energy transition effort, and Grady did not respond to requests for comment.
Trump, who will take office on Jan. 20 and succeed President Barack Obama, is working to fill a slew of top administration jobs in the coming weeks.
Current EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s term will be over when Obama leaves office. She took over in 2013 and has spearheaded some of the agency’s most sweeping regulations, including the Clean Power Plan which aims to slash carbon emissions by 32 percent from power plants. The plan is already being challenged in court.
BACK TO FUTURE?
During Bush’s presidency, the EPA weakened numerous regulations that industry found onerous, cut funding for pollution monitoring, and reduced the information companies needed to submit on their release of toxic substances.
Since leaving the Bush administration’s EPA, Holmstead has become one of the nation’s leading air-quality lawyers, representing the coal and oil industries, as head of the Environmental Strategies Group at Bracewell.
Catanzaro, meanwhile, became director of government relations at electricity generator PPL Corporation after leaving Bush’s EPA. He later worked as a managing director at FTI Consulting before joining CGCN, taking on energy clients like Koch Industries, Devon Energy and Halliburton.
Trump campaigned on a promise to drastically reduce environmental regulation and ease permitting for infrastructure, moves he said would breathe life into an oil and gas industry ailing from low prices. He has also called climate change a hoax and has promised to “cancel” the Paris Climate Accord between nearly 200 nations to slow warming. Trump is seeking quick ways to withdraw the United States from the accord.
Most observers expect the New York businessman’s administration to cut the EPA’s budget and scale back staff – moves that could raise concerns for state environmental and air pollution agencies that seek the federal agency’s technical and financial support.
“Someone who doesn’t know any better would think states want EPA to get out of the way,” said Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, a non-profit association of pollution control agencies. “But no matter which state you talk to, they would readily acknowledge that state and local agencies are most successful when the EPA is there to help them.”
Environmental groups, meanwhile, are girding for battle to protect some of the Obama administration’s signature regulations.
“We are going to fight these rollbacks, if that is what they do, each step of the way. It’s going to be a legal battle but it’s also going to be a battle in the court of public opinion,” said David Doniger, director of the climate program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Whatever people voted for, they did not vote against climate action, clean air, clean water and environmental protection.”
(Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Alistair Bell)