Does EPA Departure Signal Climate Change?

By Kennedy Maize

Washington, D.C., Nov. 5, 2010 – It could be a sign of the times, or merely a temporal coincidence. Liza Heinzerling this week announced she is leaving the Environmental Protection Agency, where she has been a hard-charging policy chief, to return to teaching at the Georgetown University law school.

The departure came a day after Republicans, often campaigning against Obama and EPA climate policies, “shellacked,” in the president’s words, Democrats in national elections, capturing the House of Representatives and significantly narrowing Democratic control of the Senate. As reported in Politico, Heinzerling has been one of the administration’s “most aggressive officials on global warming regulations” as the agency has moved into a regulatory vacuum created by congressional refusal to enact climate law.

Politico tagged Heinzerling as “one of the more dogmatic proponents” of using the Clean Air Act authorities to go after carbon dioxide emissions from fossil-fueled generating plants. The U.S. Supreme Court in Massachusetts v. EPA said the air act gives EPA sufficient authority to go after CO2. She helped litigate the case while at Georgetown.

Politico, citing “an environmental advocate,” described “two camps” at EPA on the issue of targeting electric plant emissions by regulation. Heinzerling, head of EPA’s office of policy and planning, is said to lead the forces advocating aggressive regulatory action, with support from former EPA administrator Carol Browner, Obama’s energy czarina. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson and air chief Gina McCarthy are said to be in the conciliatory camp, seeking to smooth relations with a Congress not much enamored of the regulatory approach. An EPA spokesman denied any division among administration policy makers and agency officials.

But Heinzerling’s departure may be less than meets the jaundiced eye. She took a two-year leave of absence from her tenured position at Georgetown to join EPA and, according to several press reports, made it clear that she would be gone from the administration by 2011.

The environmentally-oriented web magazine Grist, which praised her appointment in 2009, downplayed the Heinzerling departure. Grist noted that “her time at the EPA was self-delineated to two years at the outset — her plan was always to return to her teaching position at Georgetown. It is not necessary that she be replaced by a wilting violet when it comes to climate.”