President Obama on Wednesday tapped Brian Deese, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, to take over the White House's energy and environment portfolio.
Deese, a well-respected fiscal expert who has worked as one of Obama's policy advisers since the 2008 campaign, has played a key role in economic policy initiatives ranging from the auto bailout and the annual budget to financial reform and energy and tax policy. Most recently, he ran the policy planning process for the State of the Union address the president delivered Tuesday.
The 36-year old Deese will take over for White House counselor John D. Podesta, who is leaving next month to help Hillary Rodham Clinton prepare for a 2016 presidential bid.
A White House official wrote in an e-mail that Deese will hold the title of senior adviser, and "will take over the climate and energy portfolio that Podesta has handled – which will be one of the President’s top priorities for the remainder of his term."
Deese will also work on conservation and public lands issues.
In a statement, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said, “Brian is kind of the whole package – policy, strategy, insight to legislative and public affairs matters – and that’s what the President was looking for.”
Both conservation leaders and former senior administration officials said the decision to replace Podesta signaled the president was committed to pursuing an ambitious environmental agenda during his final two years in office.
"This is great news for anyone that cares about tackling climate change," wrote Heather Zichal, who served as deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change between 2011 and 2013. "Brian has been a longtime advocate inside the White House for smart rules that cut climate pollution. He's well positioned to not only hit the ground running but -- given his relationship with the President -- ensure Obama has got the solid climate legacy that he's made a priority."
Natural Resources Defense Council President Rhea S. Suh, who served as a senior Interior Department official before joining NRDC, said environmental activists had grown worried "about not having someone in the West Wing to provide clear leadership" on environmental issues in the wake of Podesta's departure, but Deese's appointment erases any such concerns.
"He is meticulous, he is incredibly strategic, he is thoughtful and collaborative -- all skills that will be desperately required to move these important policy priorities forward," Suh said in a phone interview, adding that he had worked hard on trying to change the funding rules for wildfire fighting to help protect the U.S. Forest Service's budget in the face of climate change.