By Timothy Puko
The Washington Post, Jan. 10, 2022
The administration plans to name Elizabeth Klein the new director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which also oversees offshore-wind development
The Biden administration is using a new opening at a powerful offshore energy agency to elevate a critic of fossil fuels who previously was blocked from a top Interior Department job because of opposition from oil industry allies in the Senate.
Amanda Lefton, director of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or BOEM, will leave her post Jan. 19 after nearly two years in charge. BOEM oversees leasing for offshore oil, gas, minerals and wind-power development, and Lefton has led a Biden-administration shift to emphasize wind, leading to record-large lease sales supporting the nascent U.S. industry.
Her replacement will be Elizabeth Klein, a senior adviser to Secretary Deb Haaland and strong supporter of renewable energies who had also worked at Interior during both the Clinton and Obama administrations.
The White House had intended to nominate Klein as the deputy secretary of the Interior at the beginning of President Biden’s term, but changed its plans after objections from Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who hail from energy rich states. Those senators feared that Klein and Haaland — herself an outspoken critic of the oil industry — would be a difficult team for the oil and gas industry to work with, as The Washington Post reported in 2021.
In her new position, Klein will head an influential part of the Interior Department but her appointment does not require Senate confirmation.
Before joining the Biden administration, Klein was deputy director of New York University School of Law’s State Energy & Environmental Impact Center, which frequently challenged Trump administration rule-changes that were designed to support fossil fuel industries.
During the Obama Administration, she oversaw the creation of the offshore-wind leasing program the Biden administration is now trying to supercharge as part of its efforts to address climate change. As an adviser her work has included water policy and climate change resilience, and helping American Indian tribes manage settlements on water rights claims.
Klein declined an interview request through a spokeswoman. In an interview, Lefton said she was leaving because she had accomplished her mandate at the agency. “I came here to get done a pretty ambitious agenda, and I feel like we were pretty successful,” said Lefton, declining to say what she would do next.
At BOEM Klein will now oversee all U.S. offshore oil and gas leasing, a program that has been shrinking but which still underpins roughly 15 percent of the country’s total oil production, according to Energy Department data.
When nominated as deputy Interior secretary, Klein came under attack from right-wing groups, including an anonymous website that labeled her “a key player in prosecuting President Obama’s War on Coal and advancing the radical policy goals of environmental special interests.”
David Hayes, a former Biden aide who had also spent years working with her at New York University and in the Obama administration, said Klein will be able to work with all types of companies. She is thoughtful and deliberate, and can command a room when she speaks, he said.
“She’s gotten a complete bum rap,” said Hayes, who spent two years as special assistant to the president for climate policy. “Liz Klein is a pragmatic, can-do problem solver.”
White House national climate adviser Ali Zaidi declined to acknowledge possible political blowback for the appointment. He said Klein’s years of experience at the department under three different presidents would be invaluable to Haaland, especially as BOEM deals with new legal requirements on leasing approved in last summer’s climate-spending-and-tax-policy bill.
“Having deep technical expertise and understanding of the machinery of the agency will be an asset for the secretary in carrying out the mission of the department,” Zaidi said in an interview.
Representatives for Manchin and Murkowski could not immediately be reached for comment. The two longtime allies and leaders on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources have at times been key to approving Biden’s agenda and appointees. They have also criticized the administration for slowing the pace of oil and gas leasing on federal territory as it has emphasized wind development.
Zaidi said Lefton was leaving by her own choosing and not White House request, and that the administration plans no strategy changes for BOEM. He emphasizedthe administration’s goal of generating 30 gigawatts of power from offshore windenergy by the end of the decade.
“The vision of the president has been clear from Day 1: There is tremendous opportunity off of our shores to unlock a source of clean power,” Zaidi said. “When we announced our 30-gigawatt goal, people were pretty skeptical. We’ve been able to grow this in a way that’s exceeded expectations.”
Zaidi, who previously worked with Lefton in New York state government, credited her with helping spur that success. During her tenure Interior approved the nation’s first two commercial scale offshore wind projects, held three offshore wind lease auctions, started environmental review on projects, and began exploring more wind leasing opportunities in the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf of Maine, the Central Atlantic and off the coast of Oregon, according to the department.
Originally posted on The Washington Post.