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Biden Puts Weight Behind Climate Pledge With Rules Office Pick

Feb. 2, 2021, 10:58 PM

President Joe Biden has picked Obama-era environmental official Alex Barron as senior counselor in the White House regulatory review office, adding a climate scientist to the team that will vet and sign off on rules written by agencies across the federal government.

Barron is now the second-highest ranking political appointee in the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, along with senior counselor K. Sabeel Rahman, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget said Tuesday. Barron advised Environmental Protection Agency leadership during the Obama administration on regulations to reduce carbon pollution, according to Smith College’s website, where he is a professor.

Barron’s selection adds an experienced environmental and scientific hand to an office that will play a central role in executing Biden’s ambitious climate agenda, which he has said will be a “whole of government” approach. The regulatory gatekeeper office, known as OIRA, conducts legal and economic analyses of major regulations—weighing the costs to businesses against the benefits to the public—and provides a final sign-off before they can be released. Biden’s picks to staff that office so far— including a union ally and the former leader of a progressive think tank—lack specific scientific expertise, suggesting that Barron will help round out the team’s offerings.

“He’s not a lawyer or an economist, which is highly unusual for OIRA,” said James Goodwin, a policy analyst at the Center for Progressive Reform.

Biden has otherwise selected an ideologically progressive team to staff the office, a shift from the Obama administration. The strongest signal of a change under Biden came last month, when he installed Obama-era labor official Sharon Block—who has argued in the past that the office needs a worker-oriented overhaul—as associate administrator.

Progressive advocates criticized Obama’s OIRA for weakening or slowing publication of environmental, health, and consumer regulations. At least until an administrator is named and confirmed, Block and Rahman will play a role in approving the administration’s early regulations, giving significant power to the Democratic Party’s progressive wing over the Biden administration’s agenda.

To contact the reporter on this story: Courtney Rozen in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bernie Kohn at; Andrew Childers at