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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 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.

MONTAGNE: Why is the EPA administrator such a flashpoint?

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 the legislative process, that seems unlikely. So it's going to fall to regulation and that means the EPA. The agency has already drafted rules to limit greenhouse gases from new power plants.

But a big battle could come over limits on heat trapping gases from existing plants if the EPA decides to pursue those. Quin Shea is with the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group for utility companies. His members are bracing for that.

QUIN SHEA: The new EPA administrator will have a tall task to perform here. This is a big deal. The new administrator will be one of the most influential public policy officials in the next decade.

HORSLEY: Whatever the EPA tries to do is likely to be contested both in Congress and the courts but the Supreme Court has given the agency the power to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

MONTAGNE: All right. Tell us a little bit about the woman that the president has chosen for this job at the EPA.

HORSLEY: She's Gina McCarthy. She is now an assistant administrator at the EPA and heads the division that regulates air pollution, so she's well known to the industry. She's also had a hand in crafting earlier rules, including one that doubled fuel economy for automobiles which was one of the few big climate achievements in the president's first term.

She's known as a pragmatic regulator who tries to seek industry involvement in the process. That's what she did with the automakers. Alden Meyer, who's with the Union of Concerned Scientists, says she's well respected.

ALDEN MEYER: She's tough, she's independent, she's fair. She listens to arguments. She respects the law and the finance. She will listen closely to the views of all the interests, including affected industries, and if she sees a reason to change the stance, or a position or a policy, she'll do that.

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: Well, on to the new energy secretary who will replace Steven Chu. Now, Chu brought some Nobel Prize luster to the president's Cabinet. The nominee now is another PhD physicist but also an old Washington hand.

HORSLEY: That's right. Ernie Moniz is a nuclear physicist from MIT, but he's also served as an undersecretary of energy back in the Clinton administration. At MIT he runs something called the Energy Initiative which does a lot of research on alternatives like solar energy. But he's also spent considerable time looking at natural gas. He's called that a kind of bridge fuel that can help make the transition to a less polluting energy mix. So the White House sees Moniz as one who would carry on the president's all-of-the-above energy strategy.

MONTAGNE: And finally, the president's announcing a new budget director today. Tell us about her.

HORSLEY: She is Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the president of the Wal Mart Foundation. Before she took over there last year she spent about a decade at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. So she's well versed in big philanthropy. But she's also another old Washington hand. She was deputy budget director back in the late 1990s which is, we remember, was a time when we had a rare budget surplus in this country.

And if confirmed, Burwell would be taking over the budget office at a time when it's trying to manage all those automatic spending cuts we've been talking about under the fiscal sequester.

MONTAGNE: Hmm. Tough job, then. Scott, thanks very much.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley.

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