President Barack Obama Monday announced his picks to lead the Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Department, selecting a veteran regulator and a noted academic to lead a pair of agencies responsible for driving U.S. energy policies.
Mr. Obama selected Gina McCarthy, the current head of the EPA's clean-air office, to lead the environment agency, an administration official said. For the Energy Department, Mr. Obama nominated Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicist Ernest Moniz.
Both Ms. McCarthy and Mr. Moniz emerged several weeks ago as the top contenders for these posts, and both must be confirmed by the Senate.
Mr. Obama said Monday at the White House that the pair would lead efforts to do "everything we can" to combat climate change.
The nomination of Ms. McCarthy, a Boston native who served under Mitt Romney in Massachusetts, reflects Mr. Obama's stepped-up focus on climate change.
Ms. McCarthy has pushed through some of Mr. Obama's most controversial environmental rules, including a set of greenhouse gas standards that critics say go beyond the scope of the EPA's authority. Her office is currently writing a rule to limit carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants. The rule would effectively forestall the construction of coal-fired units unless new technology becomes available.
The confirmation process could be challenging for Ms. McCarthy. The EPA is a polarizing agency that often attracts criticism from Republicans. Ms. McCarthy herself has been at the center of controversial rules that have been challenged in court, including the greenhouse gas standards.
Even before her formal nomination, some Republican lawmakers were expressing concern.
Mr. Moniz, a nuclear physicist of Portuguese descent, served in the Energy Department under President Bill Clinton. He is the director of MIT's Energy Initiative and sits on Mr. Obama's council of scientific advisers.
If confirmed, Mr. Moniz would play a role in deciding whether to allow energy companies to export U.S. natural gas. In his current role, Mr. Moniz was the co-chairman of a 2011 study that found "there are substantial economic benefits to a global natural-gas market" and said "the U.S. should not erect barriers to natural gas imports or exports."
Mr. Moniz would also lead efforts to advance new nuclear power plants, lower the cost of renewable energy, and boost the energy efficiency of U.S. buildings and appliances -- all goals he has promoted in the past.
He will have to defend those efforts before a Congress wary of government spending and skeptical of energy subsidies after the bankruptcies of some U.S.-backed renewable energy firms during Mr. Obama's first term.
Mr. Moniz will be prepared for those battles, said Phil Sharp, a former Congressman from Indiana who is president of the think tank Resources for the Future and served with Mr. Moniz on a presidential nuclear waste commission. Mr. Moniz's previous government posts have acquainted him with both Congress and the "far-flung operations" of the Department of Energy, with its national network of research labs and nuclear weapons sites, Mr. Sharp said. "He brings a preparation that is probably unusual for the Secretary of Energy."