Biden Taps Brenda Mallory for Environmental Quality Council

President-elect Joe Biden has tapped Brenda Mallory to lead the Council on Environmental Quality, a role that would have her coordinating government-wide efforts to combat climate change and promote sustainable development.

If confirmed, Mallory would be the first African American to hold the position since its creation more than half a century ago. Mallory’s nomination was confirmed by two people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named before a formal announcement.

Mallory, 63, is a lawyer who has spent decades pursuing environmental and public health protections in government and the private sector. Mallory previously served as the council’s general counsel under former President Barack Obama. Most recently, she has been the director of regulatory policy for the Southern Environmental Law Center, a group that uses litigation to promote clean air, safe water and wildlife conservation.

Her selection comes as Biden assembles a team to carry out his energy and environment policy -- and nears a choice on who will lead the Environmental Protection Agency, which is central to those efforts.

On Tuesday, Biden interviewed North Carolina regulator Michael Regan, a top contender to be EPA administrator, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Biden Taps Brenda Mallory for Environmental Quality Council

If confirmed as chair of the CEQ, Mallory would play a pivotal role guiding environmental policy decisions across the federal government. The council oversees implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act, including government reviews of the consequences of agency decisions on everything from land use and endangered species to oil drilling and offshore wind farms.

Under President Donald Trump, the agency has sought to expedite environmental reviews and permitting of pipelines, highways and other projects. Under Biden, the office is expected to play a bigger role addressing environmental inequities, with poor people and minorities more likely to live near refineries, highways and factories and disproportionately affected by the pollution they generate.

The council also may look to bolster the government’s calculation of the social cost of carbon, a metric estimating the potential economic damage from climate change historically used to justify environmental policies.

And under Biden, the agency also is likely to rewrite a rule governing agency reviews under the National Environmental Policy ActNEPA, following Trump administration changes limiting the scope of the analysis as well as what projects warrant the scrutiny.

Mallory has argued that NEPA is meant to foster informed government decision making. “NEPA was not intended to be a process for rubber-stamping government decisions,” she wrote in a piece for the American College of Environmental Lawyers last year.

Mallory, a graduate of Columbia Law School, has served in other federal government roles, including as acting general counsel and principal deputy general counsel at the Environmental Protection Agency. Her tenure as CEQ’s general counsel came as the office worked to beef up federal agencies’ consideration of climate impacts in environmental reviews -- an issue likely to land at the top of the council’s priority list under Biden.

Environmentalists hailed Mallory’s selection.

Ramon Cruz, president of the Sierra Club, said the group is confident Mallory “will commit to coordinating and scaling clean energy and infrastructure projects that align with an aggressive climate justice agenda.”

Before joining the EPA, Mallory was the chair of the natural resources practice group at the environmental law firm Beveridge and Diamond. While there, she represented Louisiana-Pacific Corp., Simpson Paper Co., and other industry clients in litigation.

“She holds a deep commitment to protecting everyone, including the most vulnerable, from environmental pollution,” said Stephen Schima, senior legislative counsel with the environmental law organization Earthjustice. “By nominating Mallory, President-elect Biden is sending a strong signal that his administration is prepared to take the steps necessary to address the climate and biodiversity crises and take meaningful action to combat environmental injustice.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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