McCarthy — one of two top climate officials appointed by Biden at the start of his administration — had long been expected to stay in her position for about a year, but continued for months beyond to help see through Democrats’ historic climate legislation, which Biden signed in August. She will be succeeded by Ali Zaidi, the official said, who had been McCarthy’s deputy since the start of the Biden administration. Biden’s other top climate official, US Climate Envoy John Kerry, is expected to stay in his post through the UN climate summit this fall.
McCarthy was the head of the Environmental Protection Agency under former President Barack Obama and was a key architect of that administration’s Clean Power Plan. In the Biden administration, McCarthy was tasked with setting up a first-of-its-kind White House office to coordinate climate action across agencies.
“Her legacy is going to be that she set up the president and the fed government for the most aggressive climate action in the history of the US,” said Christy Goldfuss, senior vice president for energy and environment policy at the Center for American Progress. “All of that will be what she’s most proud of and most remembered for. Those positions will stick around, and the structure she helped drive will be needed long into the future.”
As much as McCarthy greased the wheels for climate action across agencies, the White House’s most significant win on climate came through Congress last month in the Inflation Reduction Act, which contains $370 billion in new clean energy tax credits and climate provisions — a historic amount of climate spending and the most significant environmental legislation since the landmark Clean Air Act.
As the Biden White House has pursued a largely legislative climate strategy, McCarthy did not play a large role in the Congressional negotiations, multiple lawmakers told CNN. In the end, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer played the largest role in final negotiations with Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia that produced a surprise, eleventh-hour climate bill.
Throughout a year of stop and start negotiations preceding the bill’s passage, lawmakers said McCarthy was largely focused on guiding executive actions and agency regulations. She had regular check-ins with Senate climate hawks to keep them apprised of climate-focused executive actions, Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota told CNN.
“I think that has been her sweet spot; more on the executive action side rather than the negotiations with Congress side,” Smith said.