Senate Aide Named a Top Adviser to EPA Head on Climate, Clean Air

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By Dean Scott

A top Senate aide’s recent move to majority counsel at the Environment and Public Works Committee was only a pit stop: Mandy Gunasekara now heads to the Environmental Protection Agency to advise its new administrator on air and climate issues.

The committee aide will serve as a senior policy adviser in the EPA administrator’s office beginning March 20, several Senate aides confirmed to Bloomberg BNA March 9.

Gunasekara is currently majority counsel for the new Environment and Public Works chairman, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.); her last day with the committee is March 17. She will be among a handful of senior advisers reporting to Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general confirmed to head the EPA.

Pruitt’s incoming policy adviser has worked for the environment panel since 2015, when then-Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) named her to serve as the panel’s Clean Air Act and Climate Change counsel. Barrasso took the mantle in January—Inhofe had to step down due to term limits Republicans impose on leadership in the Senate—and essentially brought Gunasekara with him as majority counsel.

Gunasekara is the latest former Inhofe aide to go to work for Pruitt, following Ryan Jackson, who will be Pruitt’s chief of staff. Andrew Wheeler, another ex-Inhofe aide, is reportedly being considered for the No. 2 job at EPA.

To her Senate and House peers, Gunasekara will always be remembered for her connection to a bit of winter theater on the Senate floor in February 2015. Inhofe tossed a snowball—underhanded and in the direction of Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who happened to be presiding over the Senate—to protest what he said were overly alarmist warnings of rising temperature and man-made climate change.

Though the idea was Inhofe’s, the snowball featured in that stunt was brought to him by Gunasekara, who at the time had only been in her committee post for three weeks. The snowball deed was featured in a segment on “The Daily Show,” then hosted by Jon Stewart, with the video capturing Gunasekara seated just behind the senator as he cupped the snowball.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at DScott@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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