Biden taps ex-Obama official as Interior Department deputy

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Secretary of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland attends a Cabinet meeting with President Joe Biden in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, April 1, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON – The White House is naming Tommy Beaudreau, a former Obama administration official, to be deputy secretary at the Interior Department after dropping plans for a more liberal nominee who faced key Senate opposition.

President Joe Biden on Wednesday nominated Beaudreau, a former chief of staff at the department who was the first director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The agency, created after the disastrous BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, oversees offshore drilling and wind power.

Beaudreau grew up in Alaska and is politically close to Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a former chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee who holds great sway over oil drilling, endangered species and other department issues. Murkowski and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat who now heads that committee, opposed Biden's plan to nominate former Interior Department official Elizabeth Klein as deputy secretary.

Murkowski and Manchin told the White House they were concerned that the progressive Klein would not be a sufficient counterweight to new Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, a former Democratic congresswoman from New Mexico who has criticized the oil and gas industry.

Beaudreau’s appointment is widely seen as an attempt to win favor with Murkowski and Manchin, moderates who are vital to a number of Biden's priorities, including his $2.3 trillion infrastructure and clean energy plan.

Murkowski was one of four GOP senators who voted in favor of Haaland, the first Native American to lead a Cabinet department, but said she “struggled” with her decision, citing Haaland’s views on oil drilling and other resource development. Manchin also hesitated for weeks before announcing his support for Haaland.

Meanwhile, the Senate on Wednesday confirmed lawyer Brenda Mallory to chair the White House Council on Environmental Quality. The office oversees environmental reviews for major infrastructure projects and advises the president on environmental issues, including environmental justice. Mallory, director of regulatory policy at the Southern Environmental Law Center, will be the first African American to chair the CEQ in its more than 50-year history.

Mallory previously served as the CEQ’s top lawyer and worked at the Environmental Protection Agency for 14 years. The Senate voted 53-45 to confirm her. Three Republicans — Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Rob Portman of Ohio — supported Mallory.