All quiet on the CEQ front

Source: Robin Bravender, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, June 13, 2014

Mike Boots should probably get comfortable in his seat in the White House’s Eisenhower Executive Office Building.He’s been acting chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality since February with no word from the White House about a replacement. And it looks like he’ll be sticking around for a while — potentially through the November elections and even into next year, according to sources tracking the position.

“I have the sense that he’s well integrated into the new White House structure,” working with President Obama’s new counselor John Podesta and energy and climate adviser Dan Utech, said Clinton-era CEQ Chairman George Frampton. “So why buy more uncertainty on a confirmation delay right now? I would expect that come next January or February the issue may arise again, but in the meantime he’s acting and could conceivably stay.”

When longtime CEQ Chairwoman Nancy Sutley announced her resignation late last year, there was speculation over which environmental policy heavyweight would be hired to replace her. But since she headed for the exit in February, Boots has taken the reins, Podesta has made environmental issues a central part of his portfolio and chatter about a Sutley successor has gone quiet.

“I’m not hearing anything,” said one observer tracking the administration’s environmental policies.

After an initial flurry of conversations with several people, “the process seems to have slowed down, likely because of the challenge of confirmation and also the strong role that John Podesta is playing on environmental and climate issues in the interim,” said another source who’s close to White House discussions on the position.

“If the White House intends to proceed to fill the position for the remainder of the president’s term, it’s highly unlikely that anybody could be confirmed before spring or summer of next year,” that person said.

A long list of candidates were rumored to be under consideration, including former Democratic Govs. Bill Ritter of Colorado and Christine Gregoire of Washington; Mindy Lubber, president of the Boston-based nonprofit Ceres; David Hayes, former deputy Interior Secretary; and others (Greenwire, Jan. 28).

Any nominee would become an instant target in the political melee over the administration’s climate and energy policies. And with Boots in place as a caretaker who has the trust of top White House officials, it may not be a fight the administration wants to pick with the November elections creeping closer.

As the shop charged with coordinating environmental policy across the government, CEQ has a lot on its plate as the Obama administration tackles greenhouse gas rules, a decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline and other high-profile issues.

Frampton said Boots is in a position to be even more effective than a Senate-confirmed outsider, who would take time to form new relationships and whose nomination could drag out on Capitol Hill. “Arguably somebody who’s been in the mix and who’s good and who steps right in immediately has more clout,” Frampton said.

“The ability CEQ has to make a contribution really depends on how receptive senior staff in the White House are to helping CEQ play,” Frampton added. “So now you have a sort of shadow deputy chief of staff for environmental and energy stuff in John [Podesta] and you have a person who I think is very competent and knowledgeable in Michael [Boots], and so that channel is now open.”

Asked about the status of the job, White House spokesman Matt Lehrich said, “We’re not going to speculate on potential personnel announcements.”

CEQ lost both of its two top officials this year when Sutley and her deputy, Gary Guzy, left the administration. Guzy served as the Senate-confirmed No. 2 in the office, where he was deputy director and general counsel. It’s unclear whether Obama will nominate another deputy director, but that appears unlikely after a former U.S. EPA attorney was picked in March to be CEQ’s general counsel (Greenwire, March 5).

The White House declined to comment on how long Boots can technically stay on the job in an acting capacity.

Generally, officials filling jobs that are subject to Senate confirmation can serve in an acting capacity for 210 days after the post is considered vacant, under a federal law that governs executive branch vacancies. Under that time limit, Boots would be able to remain acting at least into September, and the time restriction would be suspended if Obama were to submit a nominee to the Senate by the end of the 210 days.