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Obama rounds out cabinet with EPA, Energy picks

A worker cleans a sidewalk outside the White House in Washington March 2, 2013. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
A worker cleans a sidewalk outside the White House in Washington March 2, 2013. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By Jeff Mason and Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will announce on Monday his intent to nominate air quality expert Gina McCarthy to lead the Environmental Protection Agency and nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz to head the Department of Energy, a White House official said.

The long-awaited announcement will come as Obama fills out his second term cabinet. At 10:15 a.m. EST (1515 GMT) the president also plans to announce his choice of Sylvia Mathews Burwell, head of the Walmart Foundation, to become director of the White House budget office.

The nominations require confirmation by the Senate.

Obama appears to have delayed some cabinet appointments, whose names were well known for weeks, until after the deadline for massive spending cuts known as "sequestration."

Obama and congressional leaders failed to reach an agreement to delay those cuts on Friday, threatening other policy priorities in the president's second term agenda.

One of those priorities is fighting climate change, an issue Obama raised prominently in both his inaugural and State of the Union addresses earlier this year. Obama has urged Congress to embrace a market-based mechanism to reduce climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions, or face executive action from his administration to achieve the same goal.

McCarthy would likely become the face of that climate change push, which may involve greater regulation of power plant emissions. Currently the assistant administrator for the EPA Office of Air and Radiation, she would replace Lisa Jackson, who has stepped down as EPA chief.

Moniz, meanwhile, would become the go-to person for Obama's goal of reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil and establishing America as a leader in clean energy technology.

A former undersecretary of energy during the Clinton administration, Moniz is currently director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Energy Initiative, a research group that gets funding from industry heavyweights including BP, Chevron, and Saudi Aramco for academic work on projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gases.

Moniz would replace Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, who is stepping down.

Moniz would take the helm as the United States grapples with new problems of abundance as oil and gas production booms, rather than the historical fear of energy scarcity.

"I think there will have to be a continued emphasis on clean energy, but there's got to be a bridge, a transition," said Mack McLarty, a chief of staff under former President Bill Clinton who was involved in a natural gas study that Moniz led for MIT.

He said Moniz had a track record of building consensus on divisive issues. "Ernie's a practical guy. He knows how to get from A to B," McLarty said.

(Editing by Vicki Allen)

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