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White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy speaks at a news conference

White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy speaks during a news conference on April 22, 2021. (Photo: Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)

Official With Oil Ties Next in Line as Biden Climate Adviser Reportedly Plans to Quit

Deputy White House climate adviser Ali Zaidi, who is expected to replace Gina McCarthy if she steps down, previously did legal work for a number of fossil fuel companies.

Jake Johnson

President Joe Biden's top domestic climate adviser is reportedly planning to resign in the coming weeks as much of the White House's green energy agenda remains stalled in the Senate—and as the administration moves to boost U.S. oil production and gas exports in response to Russia's war on Ukraine.

According to the New York Times, White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy "has told confidants that she has been frustrated by the slow pace of climate progress." Reuters cites one unnamed source as claiming that McCarthy—who served as head of the Environmental Protection Agency during the Obama presidency—intends to leave her position "as soon as next month," a timeline the White House denies.

"The country can't afford a climate czar who peddles climate delay and calls it climate action."

McCarthy herself responded to reports of her coming departure in a Twitter post late Thursday, writing, "Reports that I have resigned from my position as President Biden's National Climate Adviser are simply inaccurate." Notably, McCarthy's post does not address reports that she plans to resign in the near future.

"We've made great progress these past 14 months," McCarthy added, "but we have much more work to do—and I remain excited about the opportunities ahead."

If McCarthy leaves the White House, deputy national climate adviser Ali Zaidi is expected to replace her, likely angering environmentalists who have long been wary of Zaidi's ties to the fossil fuel industry.

As E&E News reported last year, "Zaidi did 'legal services' for Mission Coal Company LLC and Murray Energy Corp., both listed on his form as bankruptcy clients of his former firm."

"Zaidi also did legal work for Callon Petroleum Co. and Midstates Petroleum Company Inc. as well as energy private equity firms Cresta Energy Fund Management and Energy Capital Partners," the outlet noted, citing one of Zaidi's financial disclosure filings.

In a statement late Thursday, Jean Su, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's energy justice program, said that "Biden needs to appoint a new climate czar who will urgently leverage the president's broad executive powers to declare a climate emergency, phase out fossil fuels, and ensure an equitable, 100% renewable-energy transition."

"Biden's domestic climate agenda has been devastatingly slow-walked while the climate emergency keeps accelerating at a frightening pace," said Su. "The country can't afford a climate czar who peddles climate delay and calls it climate action."

Reports of McCarthy's looming departure come as the Build Back Better package—a centerpiece of White House's agenda that proposes hundreds of billions of dollars in renewable energy investments—is effectively dead in the Senate, where Big Oil ally Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is standing in the way.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is facing backlash from environmentalists over its energy response to Russia's assault on Ukraine. While progressive lawmakers are calling on the White House to ramp up clean energy manufacturing in response to the war, the Biden administration has focused largely on increasing domestic oil production and dipping into the nation's strategic oil reserves.

The White House is also working to help the European Union secure enough liquefied natural gas from the U.S. and elsewhere to make up for gas the bloc previously imported from Russia. Climate advocates warned that such an effort risks locking in "deadly new gas infrastructure" at a time when scientists are imploring the international community—and rich countries in particular—to quickly phase out oil and gas production to prevent runaway warming.

Prior to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, McCarthy—who has also faced heavy criticism from environmentalists—publicly acknowledged growing outrage over the Biden administration's lack of climate progress and inadequate emissions targets.

"We understand people's frustration," McCarthy said during a Politico event in early February. "Would we all like to be running faster and faster? Yes, we would. And we fully intend to be running faster and faster."

"We all understand that we have to do as much as humanly possible as quickly as we possibly can," McCarthy added. "The president has said that over and over."

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