Obama Announces His Picks For EPA, Other Cabinet Posts

President Obama rounds out his Cabinet for his second term, nominating three new leaders Monday: Walmart Foundation's Sylvia Mathews Burwell for budget chief, MIT scientist Ernest Moniz to head the Energy Department and veteran regulator Gina McCarthy to run the EPA — a post that's likely be a lightning rod during Senate confirmations.

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. President Obama is to announce, or has just announced, three Cabinet-level nominations today - for the Energy Department, for the Office of Management and Budget, and the Environmental Protection Agency. It's that last one, for the EPA, that will likely be the biggest lightning rod during Senate confirmation hearings. NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley is here with us now, to talk about the president's picks. Good morning.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee. And you're right, the announcement wrapped up just a few moments ago in the White House East Room.

MONTAGNE: Yeah, well - so tell us about the woman the president has chosen to head the EPA, let's start with that. Gina McCarthy.

HORSLEY: That's right, Gina McCarthy is an assistant administrator at the EPA now. She heads the division that regulates air pollution, so she's well known to the industries that are regulated by the agency. She's also had a hand in crafting one of the major climate accomplishments - the few major climate accomplishments of the president's first term. That was a rule that doubled fuel economy for automobiles. She's known as a pragmatic regulator, one who tries to bring industry into the conversation. Here's how the president described her at the White House this morning.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Gina's focused on practical, cost-effective ways to keep our air clean and our economy growing. She's earned a reputation as a straight shooter. She welcomes different points of views. I'm confident that she's going to do an outstanding job leading the EPA.

HORSLEY: She also has a bit of a bipartisan pedigree, having worked under a couple of Republican governors in the Northeast, including a former Massachusetts governor named Mitt Romney.

MONTAGNE: Now there's speculation that this pick will generate some opposition. And why, exactly, the EPA?

HORSLEY: Two words, Renee - climate change. The president has said he wants to make a difference in global warming, and while he'd like to do that through legislation, getting a bill through Congress seems unlikely. So, that leaves it to the regulators, and that means the EPA. Already the agency has draft rules in place to limit greenhouse gases from existing power plants, especially coal-fired power plants - excuse me, for new power plants - but there's consideration that they may adopt rules for existing power plants. Those are responsible for about 40 percent of the nation's carbon pollution, so this could be a major fight ahead.

MONTAGNE: Obama's pick for the new Energy Secretary, is Ernie Moniz. He's replacing Steve Chu, who brought some Nobel Prize luster to the president's cabinet. Moniz is another PhD physicist, also an old Washington hand, though.

HORSLEY: That's right. The president described Moniz as someone who knows his way around the energy department. He was an undersecretary there during the Clinton Administration. He's also a nuclear physicist from MIT, where he runs something called the Energy Initiative. Now, a lot of the research that's done there at the Initiative is on alternatives, such as solar energy. But Moniz has also spent a lot of time looking at natural gas. In fact, he's described natural gas as a bridge energy, a bridge fuel that could help the country make the transition to less polluting forms of energy. So the White House calls him an example of the president's all-of-the-above energy strategy.

MONTAGNE: And finally, the president's tapped Sylvia Mathews Burwell as his new budget director this morning. Tell us about her.

HORSLEY: She is the president of the Wal Mart Foundation. Before that, she worked for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. So she's had a lot of experience with philanthropy. But she's also an old Washington hand. She was deputy budget director at OMB back in the late 1990s, which was, of course, a period when we had budget surpluses - is, we remember, rare budget surpluses.

If confirmed by the Senate, she would now be taking over the budget office at a time when she'd be responsible for managing those automatic spending cuts under the sequester.

MONTAGNE: All right. NPR White House correspondent, Scott Horsley. Thanks very much.

HORSLEY: My pleasure.

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