WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- President Barack Obama today announced his nominees to lead a new U.S. push to tackle climate change, choosing an air quality expert to run the Environmental Protection Agency and a nuclear physicist to head the Department of Energy.
Obama selected EPA veteran Gina McCarthy, 57, to replace Lisa Jackson as EPA administrator and MIT scientist Ernest Moniz, 68, to take over for Steven Chu as Energy secretary.
Both Moniz and McCarthy will preside over numerous issues that affect the auto industry -- particularly emissions regulations at EPA and alternative energy programs at the DOE.
The president, whose effort to establish a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions failed in his first term, prominently raised the issue of global warming in his Inaugural and State of the Union addresses earlier this year.
He urged Congress to embrace a market-based mechanism to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or face executive action from his administration to achieve the same goal.
McCarthy, currently the assistant EPA administrator for the EPA Office of Air and Radiation, has worked for Democrats and Republicans in the past, including Obama's 2012 presidential opponent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
"Gina has focused on practical, cost-effective ways to keep our air clean and our economy growing," Obama said at the White House, ribbing McCarthy for her Boston accent.
"She's earned a reputation as a straight shooter. She welcomes different points of views," he said.
Environmentalists and congressional Democrats largely welcomed her nomination, but she is likely to face tough grilling from Republicans, who have accused her of promoting policies that cost jobs.
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.
"Ernie knows that we can produce more energy and grow our economy while still taking care of our air, our water and our climate," Obama said.
Moniz's selection was greeted with less enthusiasm from the environmental community.
"Ernest Moniz ... has a history of supporting dirty and dangerous energy sources like gas and nuclear power with polluting partners including BP, Shell, Chevron and Saudi Aramco," said clean energy advocate Courtney Abrams of Environment America.
"We are concerned about the Department of Energy's priorities given this track record and hope Moniz will focus on clean, renewable ways to get our energy that don't put our families and our environment in harm's way."
One of the first decisions facing the Energy Department is whether to allow exports of natural gas to more countries.
A 2011 MIT study on the future of natural gas, chaired by Moniz, said the United States should not "erect barriers to natural gas imports or exports."
Many manufacturers and some lawmakers are concerned more exports will mean higher natural gas prices for consumers and companies. Moniz is likely to be questioned about the issue during his Senate confirmation hearing.
The long-awaited announcement of McCarthy and Moniz came as Obama filled out his second term Cabinet with a top economic official as well. Obama announced his choice of Sylvia Mathews Burwell, head of the Walmart Foundation, to become director of the White House budget office.
All three nominations require confirmation by the Senate.