The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Natural Resources Defense Council names Obama official as new president

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Rhea S. Suh, President Obama’s nominee to head the Fish and Wildlife Service at the Interior Department, was named president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a leading environmental group that has been particularly influential in pressing the Obama administration to move ahead with carbon dioxide limits on coal plants.

Suh becomes only the third president in the NRDC’s 44-year history, replacing Frances Beinecke.

Suh is currently serving as assistant secretary of the Interior for policy, management and budget, overseeing the department’s $12 billion budget and 70,000 employees. Earlier in her career she taught earth science in the New York City school system, worked as a program officer for the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Hewlett Packard Foundation, and served as senior legislative assistant to then-Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (D-Col.).

A 1992 graduate of Barnard College, she also has a master’s degree from Harvard University’s graduate school of education. She is a first generation Korean American and a native of Colorado.

Suh also took part in overhauling the Minerals Management Service after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The MMS is now two separate agencies under Interior.

Bob Deans, a spokesman for the NRDC, said Suh was selected after a year-long search and that she possessed the “combination of leadership, vision and values that comports fully and faithfully with who we are as a four-decade-old advocacy institution and where we need to go to face 21st century challenges. How are we going to shift to a clean energy economy? How are we going to break our addiction to fossil fuels and reduce the carbon pollution that’s driving climate change?”

NRDC has 1.4 million members and about 350 lawyers, scientists and other professionals.

Obama nominated Suh nearly a year ago to become head of the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service, and though she went through confirmation hearings her nomination has languished in the Senate, where many Republicans have vowed to oppose her confirmation. She passed out of the committee by a party line vote. The Wall Street Journal editorial board strongly condemned her in an opinion piece in March.

“Ms. Suh’s transition into the political, private sector route to shut down energy development is unsurprising,” said Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee who had opposed her nomination. “However, I am sure that after so much rushing through the nomination process earlier this year, a handful of my colleagues on the Energy Committee must be deeply disappointed to lose Ms. Suh to the NRDC.”