The Biden administration will nominate environmental attorney Rachel Jacobson as the assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment, Army Times has learned.
A Biden administration official confirmed Jacobson’s nomination to Army Times.
“I’m honored and delighted to be considered for this position,” said Jacobson in an email to Army Times. “The Army’s commitment to environmental stewardship, sustainability, and energy efficiency is second to none. I look forward to working with the many professional in the Army who are dedicated to this mission.”
If confirmed by the Senate, Jacobson will establish policy and supervise the Army’s infrastructure, including soldiers’ barracks, energy security, sustainability initiatives and pollution. She will help spearhead the service’s response and plans for climate change, which Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin considers to be an “existential threat.”
Jacobson will also play a key role in installation quality of life initiatives like the Army’s plan to renovate and replace substandard barracks.
Lawmakers have expressed concern that the service isn’t taking the barracks issue seriously, though.
Jacobson served in the Defense Department for two years during the Obama administration as the Pentagon’s top environmental lawyer, according to her biography.
She also worked in the Department of the Interior during Obama’s tenure, leading settlement negotiations with BP after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Jacobson spent three years as an acting assistant Interior secretary overseeing the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
She also spent nearly two decades with the Department of Justice, primarily working on environmental cases such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Since departing the government at the close of the Obama administration, Jacobson has remained in Washington, D.C., and worked as a special counsel for WilmerHale, a private law firm.
She may face some scrutiny from senators for her defense-related work there, including “advising a major defense contractor” in pollution negotiations with the Navy at a former weapons site.
Jacobson also “very briefly” represented Hunt Companies, a private military housing contractor, when its officials testified to Congress about conditions in its homes, she said.
If confirmed, Jacobson will replace John Surash, who has been acting assistant Army secretary since President Joe Biden’s inauguration in January.
“Rachel Jacobson is an outstanding nominee and is extraordinarily qualified,” said John Conger, a former assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations and environment.
“Her experience overseeing these issues as Deputy General Counsel for Environment and Installations during the Obama Administration will allow her to hit the ground running,” Conger said in a statement. “This is definitely a win for the Army.”
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.