White House Enviro Council Chairwoman Sutley Stepping Down

Nancy Sutley
National Journal
Ben Geman
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Ben Geman
Dec. 3, 2013, 10:51 a.m.

White House Coun­cil on En­vir­on­ment­al Qual­ity Chair­wo­man Nancy Sut­ley will step down in Feb­ru­ary, mark­ing the al­most com­plete turnover of Pres­id­ent Obama’s top en­vir­on­ment and en­ergy of­fi­cials.

Sut­ley, ap­poin­ted at the out­set of Obama’s pres­id­ency, has kept a lower polit­ic­al pro­file than some oth­er top of­fi­cials. But she played a cru­cial role in sev­er­al ma­jor ad­min­is­tra­tion policies, the White House said.

The White House has not yet named Sut­ley’s re­place­ment.

Obama, in a state­ment, thanked Sut­ley for her five years with the White House, call­ing her a vi­tal part of such policies as the second-term cli­mate agenda he rolled out in June.

“As one of my top ad­visers, Nancy has played a cent­ral role in over­see­ing many of our biggest en­vir­on­ment­al ac­com­plish­ments, in­clud­ing es­tab­lish­ing his­tor­ic new fuel-eco­nomy stand­ards that will save con­sumers money, new na­tion­al monu­ments that per­man­ently pro­tect sites unique to our coun­try’s rich his­tory and nat­ur­al her­it­age, our first com­pre­hens­ive Na­tion­al Ocean Policy, and our Cli­mate Ac­tion Plan that will help leave our chil­dren a safer, health­i­er plan­et,” he said.

Sut­ley is the latest long-serving en­vir­on­ment­al of­fi­cial to leave the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. Obama’s first-term En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency ad­min­is­trat­or, Lisa Jack­son, left early this year, and the second term has also brought new sec­ret­ar­ies of En­ergy and the In­teri­or.

More re­cently, top White House cli­mate and en­ergy aide Heath­er Zichal left in Novem­ber.

The Wash­ing­ton Post re­por­ted in Oc­to­ber that White House of­fi­cials, in an ef­fort to get Zichal to stick around, raised the pos­sib­il­ity of her tak­ing the CEQ job, but she de­clined.

Sut­ley’s next moves aren’t yet clear.

“She’s plan­ning to re­turn to her home in Los Angeles for a well-earned break be­fore pur­su­ing oth­er op­por­tun­it­ies in the en­vir­on­ment and en­ergy arena,” a CEQ aide said.

Sut­ley was deputy may­or for en­ergy and en­vir­on­ment in Los Angeles when Obama tapped her to run CEQ, an agency that plays a ma­jor role co­ordin­at­ing en­vir­on­ment­al policy among fed­er­al agen­cies.

Earli­er in her ca­reer, Sut­ley held jobs in­clud­ing en­ergy ad­viser to former Cali­for­nia Gov. Gray Dav­is and deputy sec­ret­ary for policy and in­ter­gov­ern­ment­al re­la­tions at the Cali­for­nia EPA from 1999-2003, ac­cord­ing to a White House bio.

She worked for EPA in the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion as a seni­or policy ad­viser to the re­gion­al ad­min­is­trat­or in San Fran­cisco and spe­cial as­sist­ant to then-EPA Ad­min­is­trat­or Car­ol Brown­er. Brown­er and Sut­ley would later re­unite in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, where Brown­er served as Obama’s en­ergy and cli­mate czar be­fore de­part­ing in 2011.

Sut­ley has not had the pro­file of James Con­naughton, her George W. Bush-era pre­de­cessor at CEQ, who was the pub­lic point per­son for sev­er­al Bush ini­ti­at­ives.

In an in­ter­view, Brown­er called Sut­ley a team play­er and said she had a ma­jor hand in a num­ber of ini­ti­at­ives, in­clud­ing Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion ef­forts to make the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment it­self more en­vir­on­ment­ally sus­tain­able.

Obama is­sued an ex­ec­ut­ive or­der in 2009 re­quir­ing re­duc­tions in fed­er­al green­house-gas emis­sions, im­prove­ment in waste man­age­ment and re­cyc­ling, and oth­er steps to get green­er. The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment has cut its green­house-gas emis­sions by more than 15 per­cent with these ini­ti­at­ives, the White House said.

Sut­ley played a vi­tal role in put­ting the plans in­to prac­tice, Brown­er said. “She really was the force be­hind … that and de­serves a huge amount of cred­it,” said Brown­er, who also ap­plauded Sut­ley’s work on na­tion­al-monu­ment des­ig­na­tions.

Obama also praised Sut­ley’s ef­forts to curb the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment’s en­vir­on­ment­al foot­print.

“Un­der her lead­er­ship, fed­er­al agen­cies are meet­ing the goals I set for them at the be­gin­ning of the ad­min­is­tra­tion by us­ing less en­ergy, re­du­cing pol­lu­tion, and sav­ing tax­pay­er dol­lars. Her ef­forts have made it clear that a healthy en­vir­on­ment and a strong eco­nomy aren’t mu­tu­ally ex­clus­ive — they can go hand in hand,” he said.

Ken Salaz­ar, Obama’s first-term In­teri­or Sec­ret­ary, cred­ited Sut­ley with ad­van­cing con­ser­va­tion through work on na­tion­al-monu­ment des­ig­na­tions and the mul­tia­gency “Amer­ica’s Great Out­doors” ini­ti­at­ive cre­ated in 2010.

“When his­tor­i­ans look back at her time at CEQ, they will be able to say she was very ef­fect­ive in in­form­ing and ad­van­cing the pres­id­ent’s con­ser­va­tion agenda,” he said in an in­ter­view.

“Nancy’s per­son­al­ity is that she is a work­horse, not a show horse, and she labored in the de­tail of things to get things done,” Salaz­ar said.

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