Obama’s climate adviser plans to step down


Heather Zichal, outgoing deputy assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

The White House’s senior energy and climate adviser, Heather Zichal, is leaving the administration, officials said Monday, despite the president’s entreaties to stay.

Zichal, who has spent five years in the Obama administration coordinating the work of multiple agencies on issues ranging from air quality to global warming, played an instrumental role in pushing for stricter fuel efficiency standards for automobiles and limits on mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants.

In an effort to keep Zichal on board, White House officials raised the possibility of her chairing the Council on Environmental Quality in the event that its chair, Nancy Sutley, would leave, according to people familiar with the decision who demanded anonymity in order to discuss sensitive personnel issues.

Sutley’s departure has not been announced, but the people familiar with the situation said she would step down before the end the year.

In a statement, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough praised Zichal’s work.

“Heather is one of the president’s most trusted policy advisers,” McDonough said.

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy said Zichal was “tremendously influential,” but that her departure will not affect how the administration’s climate action plan moves forward.

“We’re into implementation,” McCarthy said. “We’ll miss Heather being there, but it’s not going to slow us at all.”

A former aide to then-Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Zichal worked on Obama’s 2008 campaign and has served at the White House since the president took office in 2009. She served under climate czar Carol M. Browner until 2011, when she took over the portfolio.

Reuters first reported Zichal’s departure Monday.

Joshua Freed, vice president for clean energy at the centrist think tank Third Way, said that since “one year in any administration should be measured in dog years, Heather has spent the equivalent of 35 years working at the White House. That’s a long time. At a certain time, everyone feels the need to have a change of scenery.”

Juliet Eilperin is The Washington Post's White House bureau chief, covering domestic and foreign policy as well as the culture of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.

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