Rumored Gregoire nomination shines light on governors’ climate efforts

Source: Tiffany Stecker, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Gov. Christine Gregoire

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire. Photo courtesy of Gregoire’s office.

An unconfirmed nod for Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire (D) to head U.S. EPA could indicate that Obama will nominate someone with a leadership background on climate change.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported on Friday that Gregoire — who has served two terms and will relinquish her post next week to Gov.-elect Jay Inslee (D) — is the White House’s top pick to replace Lisa Jackson as administrator of EPA.

Although a White House official declined to comment on the record about the media report and many have reacted to the Gregoire nomination as an unproven rumor, the possibility has piqued the interest of environmentalists.

“She has a great understanding of a wide range of environmental issues,” said Ross Macfarlane, a senior adviser with Climate Solutions in Seattle. “She has a strong relationship with the business community and can be very clear with what needs to be done.”

Under Gregoire — who served as director of the state’s Department of Ecology and as attorney general before her terms as governor — the state passed a set of policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, then 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2035, and finally 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. She pushed for laws requiring the state’s top carbon polluters to report their emissions annually, a comprehensive green jobs initiative and an effort to reduce annual net energy consumption in new commercial and residential buildings by 70 percent by 2031.

Champion for environment

“Throughout her career as director of the Washington State Department of Ecology, serving as the state attorney general and her two terms as governor, Governor Gregoire has been a champion for a clean, healthy environment,” said Stuart Clark, air quality program manager at the Washington State Department of Ecology.

She has also been a supporter of continued action on the Western Climate Initiative, the state- and province-led effort to regulate carbon emissions from industry through a cap-and-trade system. Nevertheless, Washington, along with Arizona, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Oregon, left the initiative in 2011, leaving only California and a handful of Canadian provinces as members.

She made Washington one of the first states to adopt specific targets to fight climate change, said Macfarlane, and one of the first states to adopt California’s clean car standards — the model for the federal fuel efficiency standards passed last year by EPA and the Department of Transportation.

Last November, Gregoire was lauded for signing an executive order to save the state’s $270 million shellfish industry from ocean acidification — a result of man-made climate change — following a report on the issue written by a blue-ribbon commission she created in 2011 (ClimateWire, Nov. 28, 2011).

A particular focus of hers, said Macfarlane, was the cleanup of the 586-square mile Hanford site, a former nuclear complex and the most contaminated nuclear site in the country.

However, Gregoire has not publicly made a final statement on where she stands on the issue of the two coal export terminals being built on the Washington coast. “It might increase litigation risks if she made public statements before it ran its course,” said Macfarlane.

Challenges ahead for EPA chief

The next EPA administrator will need to address a difficult suite of climate issues, including placing final greenhouse gas limits on new power plants and proposing standards for existing plants. He or she is also expected to oversee regulations on greenhouse gas emissions from oil refineries, rein in toxic air pollution, limit methane emissions from the hydraulic fracturing of natural gas, implement fuel efficiency standards for cars and decide how to account for emissions from biomass power.

Various interests are also pushing the agency to revisit the ozone standard that was blocked by the White House last year, regulate coal ash and reconsider the federal renewable fuel standard — all in the context of drastic budget cuts.

The Post-Intelligencer reported that after signing an executive order to curb ocean acidification in November, Gregoire was interested in a possible opportunity to head the Interior Department if current Secretary Ken Salazar were to step down.

Gregoire was an early backer of Obama in his first presidential campaign, hosting a fundraiser with two other former female governors who later joined the administration: Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who once governed Arizona, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who headed Kansas.

In his first term, Obama tapped Gregoire’s gubernatorial predecessor Gary Locke as Commerce secretary. Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) is also a possible pick in a second Obama Cabinet, said Paul Bledsoe, an independent consultant and former Senate aide.

“The early major Cabinet positions have gone to white men,” said Bledsoe, regarding the nominations of former Sens. John Kerry and Chuck Hagel to head the State and Defense departments, respectively. “Given the diversity of the electorate that handed the president the election, I’m sure they feel compelled to offer [positions to women].”

More importantly, said Bledsoe, the new Cabinet members will have to vehemently defend and validate their departmental budgets from a smaller pool of federal dollars. Gregoire passed her budget for 2013 to 2015 last month, has presided over the state’s crippling economic recession, in which current obligations over the next three years mean the state will outspend its revenues by more than $900 million.

“It makes it increasingly important that the nominee have a very good relationship on Capitol Hill, especially with appropriators, and they have executive experience in managing large departments and agencies in tough times,” Bledsoe said.