The revised nomination is key as the administration attempts to fulfill Biden’s campaign promise to tackle climate change while dealing with a sharply divided Congress in which Democrats can spare few votes when passing legislation or approving top agency positions.
Nine other people were named in the announcement, chosen for three positions at Interior, three at the Environmental Protection Agency, and three at the Energy and Transportation departments. Together, most will be critical to carrying out the president’s climate and conservation agenda across the government.
“Today’s announcement is welcome news for the nation’s public lands,” Jamie Williams, who leads the Wilderness Society, said of the Interior nominees.
Biden tapped Winnie Stachelberg from the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress as assistant secretary for policy, management and budget under Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the nation’s first Native American Cabinet official. At the CAP, Stachelberg worked to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on gay people serving in the military.
And the White House made official the nominations of several people who have had acting roles in the administration. At the EPA, they include Radhika Fox, the agency’s top water official and former head of the nonprofit U.S. Water Alliance, and Michal Freedhoff, a former staff member to Sens. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who is now in charge of chemical safety and pollution protection.
Biden is considering Tracy Stone-Manning, a senior adviser for conservation policy at the National Wildlife Federation, to lead the Bureau of Land Management, according to a person familiar with the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they involve personnel issues. Stone-Manning’s name was not included in the House announcement.
Biden’s most consequential pick is Beaudreau, who if confirmed would return to a department that is shaping up to be an important battleground in the administration’s plan to fight climate change. Interior is responsible for hundreds of millions of acres of land and ocean and oversees oil, gas and coal extraction that accounts for nearly a quarter of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.
As a candidate, Biden vowed to curtail fossil fuel leasing as part of a broader effort to reduce the country’s impact on climate change by 2050.
Beaudreau first joined Interior a decade ago during one of its more turbulent periods. A deadly explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico resulted in one of the largest oil spills in U.S. history, and Beaudreau was brought in as part of a reorganization of the offices overseeing the offshore oil industry. He was named the first director of the newly formed Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management.
“It was in the midst of a crisis the likes of which the organization had never dealt with before,” said Michael Bromwich, the lawyer and former federal prosecutor who recruited Beaudreau to work with him at Interior during that time. “And he rose to the occasion.”
Bromwich described Beaudreau, who spent part of his childhood in Alaska, as having a “balanced view” between addressing the needs of the fossil fuel industry and protecting the environment. “Our mandate was not to end offshore drilling. It was to make it safer and less risky,” Bromwich said.
Some environmentalists have praised Beaudreau’s tenure as BOEM director and then as chief of staff to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, saying he listened well and was open to compromise. He helped establish environmental protections for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other areas.
After President Barack Obama’s term, Beaudreau worked as a partner at Latham and Watkins, a law firm that represents some oil, gas and mining companies. Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, worries that “Beaudreau is cozy with the biggest polluters on the planet and will undermine the president’s efforts to rein in fossil fuel extraction.”
But Joel Clement, a former Interior official and federal whistleblower, who worked alongside Beaudreau during the Obama administration, said it’s unfair to label him an “industry guy.” During their time together, Beaudreau “stuck his neck out for conservation many times — which is risky for an Alaska guy,” said Clement, now a senior fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
“It’s a tightrope walk in there, but he kept his eye on durable solutions rather than symbolic ones,” he said. Beaudreau is a “smart and thoughtful conservation champion.”
On Wednesday, Biden also selected Shannon Estenoz, a fifth-generation native of Key West, Fla., who worked conservation issues in the Everglades, to be Interior’s assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks. He nominated Christopher Coes, once with Smart Growth America, an advocacy group that promotes walkable neighborhoods, to be the Transportation Department’s assistant secretary for transportation policy.
Klein, Biden’s initial pick to be the No. 2 official at Interior, will still have a job at the department as a senior counselor to Haaland. That appointment does not require Senate confirmation.
This story has been updated.