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U.S. Senate panel advances nomination of Mallory to lead White House environmental council

FILE PHOTO: Brenda Mallory, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden's nominee for Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, speaks after Biden announced her nomination among another round of nominees and appointees for his administration in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., December 19, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Senate panel on Wednesday confirmed Brenda Mallory to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality, a key role that will coordinate President Joe Biden’s climate change and environmental justice policies.

The Senate Environment and Public Works committee voted 11-9 to approve Mallory, who previously served as general counsel of the council and until recently was head of regulatory affairs at the green advocacy group Southern Environmental Law Center.

The Council on Environmental Quality coordinates White House energy and environmental policies across federal agencies, and can have broad influence on the outlook for big infrastructure projects from pipelines to industrial facilities.

In an interview with Reuters ahead of her nomination last December, Mallory said she hoped the council would reverse changes here made by the Trump administration to the National Environmental Policy Act, a major environmental permitting law, that sought to ease and speed up approval of big energy infrastructure projects.

The Trump-era changes eased requirements to weigh climate change impacts of a project and limited the amount of public comment, a move seen as diminishing the voice of low-income and minority communities that are often in the way of these projects.

“I am hoping at top of the priority list for CEQ is addressing changes Trump made to how CEQ implements NEPA,” she said.

The Senate panel also voted 11-9 to advance the nomination of Janet McCabe to be deputy Environmental Protection Agency administrator, another key environmental regulatory role.

McCabe previously served as the top air and water regulator at the EPA under then-President Barack Obama and played a key role drafting regulations like the Clean Power Plan and vehicle emission standards.

The nominations will now face a full Senate vote. The timing of the vote has not yet been announced.

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; editing by Jonathan Oatis