12/26/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Who's In Play for EPA?

To the general public, President-elect Obama's impending choice of the next Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) probably lacks the sense of urgency or drama of other cabinet selections. But for the regulated community and environmentalists alike, the identity of the next head of EPA is no small matter.

With an annual budget of $7.1 billion, EPA currently employs 17,000 people in Washington, DC, in ten regional offices, and in more than a dozen labs, all working toward a stated mission of "protecting and safeguarding human health and the environment." Although state agencies often offer the first line of regulatory oversight and enforcement, it is the EPA that not only sets national environmental policy but also establishes a nationwide baseline of regulation and enforcement.

To date, a half dozen names are percolating, with increasing familiarity, as possible EPA Administrators - to wit, Ian Bowles, Lisa Jackson, Howard Learner, Kathleen McGinty, Mary Nichols, and Kathleen Sebelius. But just who are these prospects?

Ian Bowles

Ian Bowles currently heads the Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. During the Clinton Administration from 1999 to 2001, Bowles served as Associate Director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and as Senior Director of the Global Environmental Affairs directorate at the National Security Council, where he coordinated American foreign policy on global climate change, the Kyoto Protocol, and other matters. During this time, Bowles co-edited the book Footprints in the Jungle: Natural Resource Industries, Infrastructure, and Biodiversity Conservation, published by Oxford University Press in 2001.

Following his service in the Clinton Administration, Bowles held appointments as a Senior Research Fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and as Senior Advisor at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Prior to joining the Clinton Administration, Bowles was Vice President of Conservation International, a leading international conservation organization, and reportedly played a key role in the creation of one of the world's largest tropical forest national parks: the 4 million acre Central Suriname Nature Reserve. He ran for Congress in 1996, losing in the Democratic primary to US Representative William D. Delahunt.

Bowles holds a degree in Economics, cum laude, from Harvard University.

Lisa Jackson

Since 2006, Jackson has led New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) as the first African-American woman to head that department. Her tenure there, however, is drawing to a close; New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine announced on October 24, 2008, that Jackson would become his new Chief of Staff effective December 1, 2008. Jackson's career prior to leading NJDEP included work with EPA from 1987 to 2002, both at EPA headquarters and at its New York regional office.

During her tenure as Commissioner of NJDEP, Jackson worked on policies "that have put New Jersey in the forefront of states developing initiatives to combat global warming and reduce greenhouse gas emissions." She presently serves as Vice President of the Executive Board of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a program organized by northeast states to develop a regional cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from energy producers. She also worked to revise the New Jersey's Energy Master Plan to expand New Jersey's leadership role in developing clean alternative energy sources within the state. While Jackson was at NJDEP, New Jersey became one of the first states to legislatively mandate both short and long-term reductions in the emissions believed to be contributing to climate change.

Jackson is a professional engineer, with an undergraduate degree from Tulane University and a Masters Degree in chemical engineering from Princeton University. She is a native of New Orleans.

Howard Learner

Howard Learner is the founder and executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC), an organization that describes itself as "protecting the Midwest's environment and natural heritage." Before founding ELPC, Learner was the General Counsel of Business and Professional People for the Public Interest, a public interest law center, specializing in complex civil litigation and policy development. He is an Adjunct Professor at Northwestern University Law School, where he teaches an advanced environmental law seminar.

A longtime environmental advisor to President-elect Obama, Learner recently outlined what he viewed as likely policy goals of the Obama administration. His first action item: "put America on a leadership path for solving global warming problems: the moral, business, economic, policy, political and technology challenge of our generation." "It's time for Congress to enact strong federal legislation to reduce global warming pollution and provide stronger incentives for clean energy development solutions," he added.

Other areas of emphasis he articulated were (i) development of national policies to significantly boost energy efficiency standards; (ii) enactment of a national Renewable Energy Standard policy that "ramps up wind and solar power, and other clean energy to be 10% of the nation's energy supply by 2012 and 25% by 2025"; and (iii) investment in transit and high-speed rail.

Learner holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Michigan.

Kathleen McGinty

From 2003 until earlier this year, Kathleen McGinty headed the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the first woman to do so. Previously, McGinty served in various capacities in national and international public policy leadership. During the Clinton Administration, she chaired the White House Council on Environmental Quality and created and headed the first-ever White House Office on Environmental Policy.

In the private sector, McGinty has served as vice president for asset management at Natsource LLC, a financial services firm specializing in energy transactions. She currently sits on the board of NRG Energy, Inc.

According to a November 22, 2008, article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell met recently with the Obama transition team and recommended McGinty, among others, for posts in the new administration.

Rendell's endorsement was reportedly shared by Nathan Willcox, a staffer with the environmental group PennEnvironment. Despite differences of opinion with McGinty regarding the regulation of coal pollution, Willcox said, "She did pretty amazing things for Pennsylvania." He included PDEP's formulation of new regulations on mercury among McGinty's list of accomplishments.

A native of Philadelphia, McGinty earned a chemistry degree from Saint Joseph's University and a law degree from Columbia University School of Law.

Mary Nichols

Mary Nichols currently serves at the Chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, a state regulatory agency that employs roughly 1,200 engineers, scientists and attorneys, with an annual operating budget of more than $750 million. She was appointed in July 2007, thereby returning to the Air Board 30 years after serving as the Chairwoman under Governor Jerry Brown from 1978 to 1983.

In addition to her work at the Air Board, Nichols has held a number of positions, including: assistant administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Air and Radiation program under the Clinton Administration, Secretary for California's Resources Agency from 1999 to 2003, and Director of the University of California, Los Angeles Institute of the Environment. She also worked as a staff attorney for the Center for Law in the Public Interest.

Nichols holds a J.D. from Yale Law School and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Cornell University (where she majored in Russian literature).

Although careful not to offer specifics as to a regulatory agenda were she to be selected to head EPA, Nichols recently told reporters that she recognized the need to tie together an increasing number of state-mandated auto-emission standards. "I do have some sympathy for automakers' complaint that they're being regulated by a number of sides," she said.

She also stated that EPA already possesses the authority to regulate greenhouse gases from vehicles and power plants under the Clean Air Act, although Congress would need to grant the agency authority to create a market-based system for selling greenhouse gas allowances. "There are certainly some things that need to be added to [EPA's] authority to implement cap and trade," Nichols said. "But for cars and power plants, EPA has some authority they can exercise while waiting for Congress to act."

Kathleen Sebelius

Kathleen Sebelius has served as governor of Kansas since 2003 (a surprise victory for the Democrats, given that Republicans outnumber Democrats in Kansas by a margin of 2 to 1. She was elected to a second term in 2006. During the recent presidential elections, she was identified as a possible vice presidential candidate; in 2005, she was named by Time magazine as one of the nation's five best governors. She also gained national attention by vetoing a permit for the controversial expansion of a coal power plant in western Kansas.

Sebelius serves on the National Governors Association's Executive Committee and is co-chair of the National Governors Association's initiative Securing a Clean Energy Future. She is the immediate past chair of the Education Commission of the States and, as past chair of the Democratic Governors Association, currently serves on its Executive Committee. Her husband Gary is a federal magistrate judge; she is the daughter-in-law of late Kansas Republican Congressman Keith Sebelius. She is also the first daughter of a Governor (John Gilligan, Ohio, 1971-1975) in U.S. history to be elected to that same position.

Prior to being elected the governor of Kansas, Sebelius was a member of the Kansas legislature and the state's Insurance Commissioner. She is a 1970 graduate of Trinity Washington University. She also holds a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Kansas.

The Rest of the Pack

The final selection of Sebelius or any (or none) of the men and women discussed above will no doubt reflect the recommendation of the president-elect's transition team. That team includes former EPA Administrator Carol Browner; Latham & Watkins environmental attorney David Hayes; the aforementioned Lisa Jackson; Robert Sussman, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress; and Cecilia V. Estolano, the Chief Executive Officer of the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles. Therefore, none of those individuals should necessarily be discounted from the competition as well.

Nor, for the sake of completeness, should Brad Campbell (former commissioner, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection; former Regional Administrator for EPA's Mid-Atlantic region during Clinton Administration); Lincoln Chafee (former Republican U.S. Senator from Rhode Island); Jonathan Lash (President, World Resources Institute); Congressman Ed Markey (D-Mass.); Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. (Chairman, Waterkeeper Alliance); or Lisa Renstrom (former president of the Sierra Club) be discounted either. They have all been mentioned in various media reports over the course of the past several weeks.

So which of these prospects - if any - will be replacing current Administrator Stephen Johnson and, in 2009, becoming the twelfth Administrator to lead EPA in its 38-year history? Stay tuned.