White House names new climate and energy chief to replace Heather Zichal

November 8, 2013

The White House on Friday confirmed that Dan Utech will succeed Heather Zichal as President Obama’s top climate and energy adviser.

Utech most recently served as Zichal’s deputy after working as a senior adviser to former Energy Secretary Steven Chu and to Hillary Clinton when she was a senator. He also served on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee during a 10-year run as a Senate staffer.

Heather Zichal, Obama's top energy and climate adviser, is leaving the administration. (AP/Charles Dharapak).
Heather Zichal, Obama’s top energy and climate adviser, is leaving the administration. (AP/Charles Dharapak).

Obama supposedly urged Zichal to stay with his administration, with White House officials pitching the idea that she could chair the Council on Environmental Quality, according to a Post report on Thursday.

MORE: Obama’s top climate and energy adviser to leave White House

Zichal ultimately decided to move on. “I was very flattered to talk about doing other things here, but there are not a lot of people who came in on Day One [of the administration] and are still here,” she said in an interview Friday. “The reality is that it’s time for me to try something different.”

Zichal said she will take time to “decompress and take on a few projects” before deciding her next steps. “I have a long history of work in energy and climate issues,” she said. “It gets me out of bed every morning. I’ll find ways to contribute to that important agenda again.”

In a statement on Friday, Obama praised Zichal’s work with his administration.

“Heather’s efforts have proven that strengthening America’s energy security does not have to be a choice between economic growth or good environmental stewardship — it can mean both,” the president said. “I am grateful for Heather’s service, and I wish her the best in her next endeavors.”

Zichal oversaw some of the biggest climate and energy achievements of the Obama administration, including two increases of fuel-efficiency standards during the president’s first term, implementation of the first-ever national limits on toxic emissions such as mercury, and a new proposal to cut carbon pollution from new and existing power plants.

League of Conservation Voters senior vice president Tiernan Sittenfeld expressed strong satisfaction with Zichal’s work as the White House climate and energy chief, adding that her group believes Utech will continue his predecessor’s efforts.

“We’re excited about the way they’ve been moving forward on climate and energy issues, and we’re excited that Dan and the Obama administration can continue to build on that,” Tiernan said.

Follow Josh Hicks on TwitterFacebook or Google+. Connect by e-mail at  josh.hicks@washpost.comVisit The Federal Eye, The Fed Page and Post Politics for more federal news. E-mail federalworker@washpost.com with news tips and other suggestions.

Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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Josh Hicks | November 8, 2013