The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness
The Climate 202

Seven White House climate staffers to watch

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! Today we're reading about why climate change is cutting into our sleep. 🥱 But first:

7 White House climate staffers to watch, besides Gina McCarthy

Gina McCarthy, the White House national climate adviser, has garnered a flurry of headlines for her work coordinating the Biden administration’s domestic climate agenda.

But outside the spotlight, several staffers in the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy are quietly helping to craft President Biden's climate agenda, including three new detailees announced Monday.

With McCarthy reportedly planning to leave her post, these staffers could take on an even bigger role in shaping Biden's climate and energy policies at a crucial point before the midterm elections.

Here's who we're watching:

Nick Conger

Conger, who previously served as press secretary at the Environmental Protection Agency, is joining the Office of Domestic Climate Policy as a senior adviser for a six-month detail, the White House announced Monday. His first day is Tuesday.

“I'm very excited to help advance the president's leadership on environmental justice, climate change and clean energy,” Conger said in a phone interview with The Climate 202 yesterday.

Before coming to the EPA, Conger was the communications director for former vice president Al Gore. He also completed stints at the Natural Resources Defense Council and at the EPA's press office during the Obama administration.

Conger declined to comment on when McCarthy might step down, saying only, “Gina is absolutely full steam ahead as national climate adviser. She is completely dedicated and focused on delivering on the president's ambitious climate agenda.”

Robert Golden

Golden is also on detail to the White House climate office as a senior policy adviser for clean energy infrastructure. He previously served as a special adviser at the Energy Department.

Before joining Energy, Golden worked at Ørsted, the world's largest developer of offshore wind energy, as well as the consulting firm McKinsey, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Krystal Laymon

Laymon, who will join as senior policy adviser for climate resilience and adaptation, was previously the deputy director for climate resilience at the Council on Environmental Quality.

Prior to that, she worked as a supervisory emergency management specialist at the Federal Emergency Management Agency and as a policy adviser at Energy, according to her LinkedIn profile.

Ali Zaidi

Zaidi, the deputy White House national climate adviser, will probably replace McCarthy when she steps down, our colleagues Tyler Pager and Anna Phillips reported. He previously served as New York’s deputy secretary for energy and environment and held multiple climate-focused roles in the Obama administration.

While working at the law firm Kirkland & Ellis, Zaidi performed legal services for several fossil fuel companies, including Mission Coal and Murray Energy, E&E News's Kevin Bogardus and Timothy Cama reported

His past work for the fossil fuel industry could come under scrutiny if he takes the helm of the White House climate office, although Biden's ethics pledge requires appointees to recuse themselves from certain matters affecting their former clients.

David Hayes

Hayes, the special assistant to the president for climate policy, previously served as deputy secretary at the Interior Department under Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. He also ran the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center at NYU School of Law.

The center, funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, helps state attorneys general fight federal moves to roll back environmental protections. Under Donald Trump, the center helped attorneys general from both parties — but mostly from Democratic-led states — challenge numerous rollbacks with an 83 percent win rate.

Hayes is a “powerhouse” who “doesn't seek the limelight and really just buckles down and does the hard work,” Bethany Davis Noll, the center's executive director, told The Climate 202.

Sonia Aggarwal

Aggarwal, a senior adviser for climate policy and innovation in the Office of Domestic Climate Policy, previously worked at Energy Innovation, a climate-focused think tank.

Aggarwal took the lead on Biden's target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 50 to 52 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, said Robbie Orvis, senior director of energy policy design at Energy Innovation, one of many groups that has met with Aggarwal and her colleagues. The target is known as a nationally determined contribution under the 2015 Paris agreement.

Maggie Thomas

Thomas, the chief of staff in the White House climate office, co-founded the climate advocacy group Evergreen Action after advising the presidential campaigns of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on climate policy.

“Maggie Thomas is one of the best political operators to ever come out of the climate movement,” said Evergreen Action co-founder and senior adviser Sam Ricketts. “We’re lucky to have her strategic approach and passion for real solutions at work for the American people.”

On the Hill

While Manchin won’t budge on fossil fuels, some Democrats remain hopeful for a climate package

During the first day of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) said he sees an “opportunity, a responsibility” to get something done this year on climate change, Politico’s Anthony Adragna reports. But he emphasized that any potential deal would need to boost all forms of domestic energy production, including fossil fuels. 

Still, some Democrats remain cautiously optimistic that a deal can materialize this year. Sen. Tina Smith (Minn.) said at an event on Monday hosted by Evergreen Action, a climate advocacy group, that her caucus needs to “agree to what we can agree to. Recognize that there are going to be some things some of us think would be really good ideas that are not going to make it in. And we just need to accept that and get what we can get.” 

“Time is not our friend here,” Smith added.

House Democrats introduce bill to end fossil fuel subsidies, give cash rebates to consumers

Reps. Sean Casten (D-Ill.), A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) will introduce legislation Tuesday that would repeal 11 tax subsidies for oil and gas companies, worth $6 billion, and send a $500 cash rebate to American consumers. The bill is meant to help ease rising energy costs amid the war in Ukraine.

The People Over Petroleum Act “will lessen the pain families are feeling, stop funding petro-dictators like [Russian President] Vladimir Putin, and insulate Americans against future energy price inflation — all while accelerating our transition to clean, cheap American-made energy,” Casten said in a statement.

Pressure points

Climate worries galvanize a new pro-nuclear movement in the U.S.

Nuclear power has long been contested and feared across the United States, but now the zero-carbon energy source is gaining an unlikely backing from former skeptics, as governments race to end their dependence on fossil fuels to avert a climate catastrophe, The Washington Post's Evan Halper reports

“I am part of a whole generation of people who became frightened of nuclear power, but I am also more willing to entertain nuclear than I once was because there is a climate crisis,” said John Parsons, an energy scholar at MIT and co-author of a report that urges California to postpone the closure of Diablo Canyon, a nuclear facility that California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) once planned to shutter by 2025 but is now open to reviving. 

White House weighs waiving smog rules to lower gasoline prices

The Biden administration is considering waiving rules aimed at reducing summertime smog to ease gasoline prices, according to three people involved in the discussions, Jarrett Renshaw and Stephanie Kelly report for Reuters.

The waiver would allow refiners and blenders to use lower-cost components such as butane in summer gas, according to the individuals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because no final decision has been made.

The Environmental Protection Agency already announced last month that it would allow summer sales of gas blended with higher levels of ethanol, known as E15.

Extreme events

Climate change made record heat in India and Pakistan more likely

Over the past two months, India and Pakistan have endured the most intense, widespread and persistent heat in the region's history — and a study released Monday found that human-caused climate change made the event at least 30 times more likely, The Post's Kasha Patel reports.

According to the analysis, conducted by the World Weather Attribution group, global warming raised temperatures by about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius). But in a world without climate change, the punishing heat “was highly, highly unlikely,” said Arpita Mondal, a co-author and professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Mumbai

In the atmosphere


Thanks for reading!