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Politics

Who Is Auditioning for Trump’s Cabinet?

These are the top contenders for the most climate-influential jobs.

Donald Trump.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

If Donald Trump moves back to Washington, D.C., in January 2025, he won’t arrive alone. Though Trump’s first term was marked by a messy transition and bouts of political incompetence, Republican operatives have spent the past four years putting together a plan to hit the ground running if or when he returns — as well as a list of friendly names for plum positions in the would-be Trump administration. Many additional Republicans have quietly (and, often, not so quietly) spent the past few years auditioning for these top roles, typically by signaling their willingness to continue dismantling the regulatory and administrative states.

While nearly all positions in a Trump cabinet have at least some ability to limit or eliminate climate progress, here are some names circulating for the most influential departments.

The Department of Energy

The past is prologue when it comes to a future Trump administration, making Dan Brouillette an easy guess to head of the Department of Energy: His reappointment would mark a return to the post he left during the presidential transition in 2021.

But Secretary of Energy is nothing if not a competitive position, and Brouillette isn’t treating it like he’s a shoo-in, either. Since 2023, he’s served as the president and CEO of the Edison Electric Institute, a trade association for electric utilities that has taken a more tepid stance on climate policies during his tenure. He’s also spent plenty of time going on TV and speaking to the press against Biden’s (since overturned) pause in approving new export facilities for liquified natural gas — an industry he has history with but that falls well outside his purview EEI. The effect is more a performance for Trump than it is any sort of service for his organization’s members. Brouillette has also repeatedly insisted that the Trump administration won’t gut the Inflation Reduction Act, an oddly blasé attitude about legislation that has significantly benefited the utilities EEI represents.

Bernard McNamee, the author of the Department of Energy section of Project 2025, is another top choice for the DOE. One of the “most overtly political” people to ever be appointed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, in the words of E&E News, McNamee has said that fossil fuels are “key to our prosperity” and that the renewable push amounts to “tyranny.” His chapter of Project 2025 calls for — among other things — closing the renewable energy offices at the DOE, eliminating energy efficiency standards for appliances, and refocusing the three National Labs run by DOE on “national security issues.”

If Trump doesn’t pick Doug Burgum for vice president, there is a strong chance there could be a home for him at the DOE instead. Many see the governor of North Dakota as a frontrunner for Energy Secretary, suspicions Burgum has reinforced by cozying up to Trump as a political surrogate, even warming up crowds at the candidate’s political rallies. While Burgum “at times [could] seem environmentally conscious” during his gubernatorial tenure, he’s recently shifted to more familiar Republican talking points on the oil and gas industry and reportedly helped connect Trump to would-be donors in the fossil fuel sectors, according to reporting by The New York Times. He has also informally advised the Trump campaign on energy policy.

There might also be a high-ranking position in the DOE for Texas oil and fracking magnate Harold Hamm, who was reportedly a finalist for the position back in 2016. Hamm, a conservative megadonor, briefly broke with Trump during the Republican primary but has since returned to fundraise for his campaign. Trump prizes loyalty, however, which is why Secretary Hamm might be more of a longshot; Hamm may return to being an informal advisor for the administration instead.

The Department of the Interior

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem seems pretty solidly off the VP shortlist after making national headlines for admitting in her memoir that she killed a puppy, but she may yet fill a role in the administration that is less in the public spotlight. Interior wouldn’t be so far-fetched: Noem played an active part in slashing environmental protections in her state — something that ought to endear her to Trump — and she worked closely with Trump’s Secretary of the Interior to explore returning controversial firework shows to Mount Rushmore. In South Dakota, Noem also rolled the Department of Environment and Natural Resources into the Department of Agriculture and has been actively hostile to the build-out of renewable energy, going so far as to refuse to apply for IRA grant money — an action that signals her uncompromising commitment to the party’s political message to anyone watching.

If not Noem, it’s possible David Bernhardt could return to the position he held under the first Trump administration. He’s used his time out of national politics to promote better swamp management (that’s the metaphorical swamp, not literal swamps, such as the critical beachfront-adjacent wetlands he limited protections for while in office) and to push Trump’s plan to reinstate Schedule F — which will make it easier to fire employees that aren’t deemed loyal enough to the administration — declaring that his own agency had been “overwhelmingly liberal” during his tenure. Bernhardt has adopted skepticism of career civil servants as something of a pet cause, publishing a 2023 book called You Report to Me: Accountability for the Failing Administrative State and filing an amicus brief to the Supreme Court earlier this year that argued, “One would be naïve not to understand how policy drives the ‘science’ at an agency.”

Those familiar with Bernhardt’s thinking, though, see the former secretary as angling for a more ambitious post in a future Trump administration, such as director of the Office of Management and Budget. An OMB appointment would potentially put Bernhardt on a collision course with Russ Vought, another Schedule F proponent, which means that if the former Interior secretary’s apparent angling for a new office doesn’t pan out, he may end up back in a more familiar role.

Trump’s former ambassador to Portugal, George Glass, has also been floated in the Interior conversation. An Oregon businessman, Glass fits the bill as a Westerner — since 1949, just one Interior secretary has not been a resident or native of a state west of the Mississippi. He also sees eye-to-eye with Trump as a China hawk, and while he doesn’t have much of a climate record, he has been a steady donor whose loyalty could be rewarded again with a plum administrative position.

The Department of Agriculture

While the Department of Agriculture doesn’t have the same levers to pull as Interior or Energy, the USDA nevertheless oversees one of the most significant sources of planet-warming emissions in the United States. While the Biden administration’s USDA has explicitly pursued an “equitable and climate-smart food and agriculture economy,” the Heritage Foundation instead wants the agency to “play a limited role” that doesn’t “hinder food production or otherwise undermine efforts to meet consumer demand.”

J. D. Vance has emerged as one candidate to get that job done. The Hillbilly Elegy author-turned-Ohio-senator previously invested in an agriculture startup and has taken a particular interest in the farm bill, while at the same time boasts a 0% lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters. Vance’s name has also been in the hat for VP, and he’s certainly done his best to remain in Trump’s good graces, which could land him a secretary post if he doesn’t ultimately make the cut as a running mate.

There might be a better case, though, that this department ends up in the hands of Sid Miller. Currently serving as the Texas Agriculture Commissioner, Miller was reportedly on the shortlist for the position back in 2016. He has blamed weather-related power outages in his state on renewable intermittency, at one time writing, “to heck with green energy or climate change.” Miller is something of a firebrand, however, alienating even some within his own party, and he could struggle to garner the bipartisan support that will likely be necessary to win confirmation.

The Environmental Protection Agency

Though Trump initially avoided answering a question about the climate during the first presidential debate, he had talking points ready thanks to Andrew Wheeler, his former head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Trump seemingly referred to Wheeler as one of “my top environmental people,” suggesting that in addition to being an informal adviser to the campaign, Wheeler and his work at the EPA remain in high regard with Trump himself. While in the previous administration, Wheeler notably helped to roll back over 100 clean air, water, and environmental regulations.

Wheeler himself has been cagey about whether he’s auditioning for another Trump position, though — this spring, he joined the Holland & Hart law firm as a partner focused on federal affairs. If Wheeler decides to stay in the private sector, Trump might turn instead to Mandy Gunasekara, one of the primary architects of the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change and the author of the especially concerning Project 2025 chapter on the EPA.

Gunasekara has bolstered the case for herself by describing how she would curtail the EPA’s powers, eliminate its enforcement office, and “update the 2009 endangerment finding” that greenhouse gases are a threat to public health and the environment — science that has been used as the backbone for the EPA’s climate change regulations for years. Gunasekara has also said that while she believes in human-caused climate change, planetary warming is “overstated” and erroneously claimed that scientific data shows “a mild and manageable climate change in the future.” That rhetoric puts her right in sync with her potential future boss.

Jeva Lange profile image

Jeva Lange

Jeva is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Her writing has also appeared in The Week, where she formerly served as executive editor and culture critic, as well as in The New York Daily News, Vice, and Gothamist, among others. Jeva lives in New York City.

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