CEQ chief’s departure adds to energy exodus 

Source: Robin Bravender, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The White House is on the verge of another exodus of top environment and energy staffers.

Mike Boots, the acting chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, plans to leave the administration in March, a CEQ spokeswoman said. His departure will come a month after President Obama’s top environmental aide, John Podesta, is slated to step down.

The two high-profile exits are the latest examples of turnover among top White House environmental aides. And with no announcements yet about replacements or about who will take the reins on these issues in the West Wing, Boots’ departure raises questions about who’ll lead the charge on environmental issues (Greenwire, Jan. 8).

“The president sets his priorities, and he’s going to have to have some additional senior staff that he trusts, both in the White House and at CEQ,” Clinton-era CEQ Chairman George Frampton said. CEQ “has a very talented staff … but doesn’t function as well unless there are people in the senior staff of the White House who want to use them effectively.”

Boots has been at the helm of CEQ since last February, after the exits of former Chairwoman Nancy Sutley and her deputy, Gary Guzy. Boots was CEQ’s chief of staff before he was elevated to acting director.

What’s next for Boots? He’s “considering a number of energy- and environment-related options outside the federal government,” the CEQ spokeswoman said.

Rumors circulated early last year about possible White House picks for a permanent CEQ leader, but Obama never announced a nominee to replace Sutley. With Podesta, Boots and White House energy and climate adviser Dan Utech helping to run the show, the administration may have seen it as unnecessary to take on a difficult confirmation battle, particularly during a midterm election year.

But a CEQ nominee could be forthcoming now that Boots’ departure will leave the agency’s top three positions vacant.

“When you have three top slots open, that means finding new leadership,” Frampton said. “It’s not going to be easy to replace. I think that between the three of them, John Podesta, Dan [Utech] and Michael [Boots] have been a great team over the past year, and John empowered them.”

The CEQ spokeswoman didn’t say today who might be in line to replace Boots. Lowry Crook has been CEQ’s deputy chief of staff since 2012 and has been playing backup for Boots since he took the helm of the agency.

Obama and others today lauded Boots’ tenure as acting CEQ chief.

“It is no coincidence that Mike’s leadership of the Council on Environmental Quality has coincided with historic national progress on climate change and conservation,” Obama said in a statement.

“His deep policy expertise and his work with mayors, governors and other local leaders have guided my actions to strengthen our nation’s infrastructure and address the threats communities face from climate change. His leadership has helped me fulfill the pledge I made a year ago to protect the pristine and special places Americans care about, including by permanently preserving more than 260 million acres of environmentally and culturally significant lands and waters as national monuments.”

Heather Zichal, former White House energy and climate adviser, called Boots a “rock solid advocate on behalf of President Obama’s agenda.”

She added, “He worked tirelessly to ensure protection of our public lands and clean air and water for our families. There will certainly be big shoes to fill with his departure, but I’m confident the president and his team will continue to build a lasting environmental legacy in the remaining years of his administration.”

And Frampton said Boots has done an “absolutely terrific job, both because he’s a very capable person, but also because he’s had the support of John Podesta, which is equally important to the significant role that he’s played. I’m just sorry he’s leaving, but I can understand it.”

Obama’s former energy and climate adviser Carol Browner said today in a statement that Boots “has been a tremendous champion for climate change, energy, and environmental causes over his six years in the Obama administration.” She called him an “integral part of the climate and energy team” and praised his leadership on issues like fuel efficiency standards, oceans policy and climate rules.

“He will be missed as the Environmental Protection Agency and the White House continue to implement their aggressive climate change agenda over the next two years,” Browner said.