In the wake of historic midterm losses, people wondered whether Barack Obama would be willing or even able to execute a shift to the center and work with Republicans in the House to find areas of common ground on policy, or whether he would shift to regulatory innovation to push his agenda. Most people guessed the latter, but a personnel change yesterday at EPA may suggest that the White House is looking for olive branches rather than bureaucratic warfare. Lisa Heinzerling, an advocate for aggressive regulatory expansion to combat global warming, has resigned:
One of the Obama administration’s most aggressive officials on global warming regulations is stepping down from her post at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Lisa Heinzerling, the head of EPA’s policy office, will return to her position as a Georgetown University law professor at the end of the year, said EPA spokesman Brendan Gilfillan.
Within EPA, Heinzerling is one of the more dogmatic proponents of regulating greenhouse gases to the maximum extent possible under the Clean Air Act.
There are two camps within the agency on climate, said an environmental advocate who spoke on background. The Heinzerling camp, with the mind-set that, “we have the law on our side; let’s go get them.” In the other camp are Administrator Lisa Jackson and EPA air chief Gina McCarthy, who are trying to maintain the support of the White House and Congress.
The question will be whether Heinzerling left on her own steam or got pushed out the door. Even if it was her own decision, it may have come after losing the fight to run roughshod over Congress and impose the equivalent of carbon taxes through regulation. A Republican House appears poised to strip the EPA of funding if it exceeds what the GOP considers its Congressional mandate, which means an end to regulatory innovation for the next two years, at least. There isn’t much point in sticking around for Heinzerling under those conditions.
If she got pushed, then it sends a stronger signal that the White House may have decided to forgo a constitutional battle with Congress over regulatory expansion as a substitute for legislation. This shows the importance of winning the House in the midterms. The Senate won’t be able to add spending rejected by the House because Republicans will have a substantial majority to block it in conference reports. Anything defunded by the House will stay defunded, and despite some of the tough talk from the Obama administration before the midterms on pursuing regulatory solutions, the White House has apparently reached the obvious conclusion.
We will know more when Obama appoints Heinzerling’s successor. If the next appointee is an advocate of aggressive regulatory expansion, then Heinzerling’s departure won’t have been an olive branch at all.