Alumni like Andrew Mayock, J.D. ’95, and Sonal Larsen, B.S. ’05, work to make the federal government an effective agent against the existential threat of climate change.
Inside the Administration is a series featuring GW alumni serving across the federal government in President Joe Biden’s administration.
By Ruth Steinhardt
At the COP26 climate summit this week, President Joe Biden called the urgent threat of climate change an “existential threat to human existence as we know it.” The president’s latest “Build Back Better” economic and climate agenda framework includes $555 billion for clean energy incentives and climate measures—an amount that, if it passes, would represent the largest legislative investment to date in combating climate change. And as Congress wrangles over the specifics, alumni of the George Washington University continue to work behind the scenes to make sustainability and environmental science federal priorities.
Federal Chief Sustainability Officer Andrew Mayock, J.D. ’95, is one of those alumni. His work helps federal agencies prepare for and respond to the impact of climate change on their operations, services and programs, including working to transition the federal government—currently the United States’ largest domestic electricity consumer and fleet owner—to 100 percent carbon-free electricity and 100 percent zero-emission vehicles.
“I am on a true whole-of-government team that is working tirelessly and rapidly to help our government, the nation and the world limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius per the Paris Agreement and as the science demands,” he said. “Working side by side with dedicated civil service employees and appointees alike to deliver on this mission is the most gratifying work.”
Mr. Mayock arrived at the GW Law School in the 1990s seeking a career in public service, and in 1994 landed an internship at the White House on the National Economic Council.
“While at school in the mornings, I learned about law and policy through textbooks and professors,” said Mr. Mayock, J.D. ’95. “Three blocks away from GW at my White House internship in the afternoon and late into the evenings, I experienced law and policy applied. It was an extraordinary, combined education.”
While the threat of climate change is undeniably urgent, Mr. Mayock said it is also an opportunity for innovation and improvement.
“As we all grapple with the clear and present danger of climate through the heat, droughts, hurricanes and floods of just this year, President Biden sees this crisis also as an economic opportunity, where we can create jobs in our transition to clean energy economy,” Mr. Mayock said.
Sonal Larsen, now senior adviser on climate at the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), remembered how, as a student at GW’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, she too saw the concrete policy effects of her education in real time.
“Being a student at GW, down the street from the White House, I feel like I had a unique glimpse into the power of technical knowledge in public policy earlier than most other engineering students would,” said Ms. Larsen, B.S. ’05.
That understanding serves her well at GSA, which provides the products, services and facilities that all federal agencies need to do their work. In her position as the first ever senior adviser on climate, she helps direct the agency’s vision on sustainability, working “to make carbon pollution-free electricity, building decarbonization, zero emission vehicles and climate resilience a reality across the federal footprint.”
Like Mr. Mayock, Ms. Larsen sees the moment as crucial and the federal government as a key player. “We have an exciting opportunity to significantly cut greenhouse gas pollution and advance environmental justice,” she said. “GSA can really help catalyze new and innovative clean energy technologies and equity through federal sustainability.”
Ms. Larsen also said GW helped lay the foundation for the administration’s highly collaborative “whole-of-government approach to combating climate change.”
“Climate policy involves collaboration with experts from a variety of technical fields,” she said. “GW's School of Engineering and Applied Science gave me the foundation I needed to be able to dissect and understand technical information. I can now use that foundational knowledge in my current role to provide advice on public policy.”
Other GW alumni working in sustainability, energy and environmental science under Mr. Biden include:
Environmental Protection Agency
- Lindsay C. Hamilton, B.A. ’04, associate administrator for public affairs
- Michael S. Regan, M.P.A. ’04, EPA administrator
Department of the Interior
- Elizabeth Klein, B.A. ’97, senior counselor to the secretary of the interior
Department of Energy
- Hernan Cortes, M.B.A. ’94, M.S. ’95, director of portfolio management, Loan Programs Office
- Jennifer Garson, M.P.P. ’10, acting director, Water Power Technologies Office
- Dong Kim, M.E.M. ’91, M.S. ’95, senior adviser
- Bhavya Lal, Ph.D. ’12, senior adviser to the NASA Administrator for budget and finance
- Susie Perez Quinn, M.A. ’04, chief of staff
- Megan E. Healy, M.A. ’08, deputy director for NEPA, White House Council on Environmental Quality
- Kei Koizumi, M.A. ’95, chief of staff, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
- Jeff Marootian, B.A. ’01, MPA ’03, special assistant to the president for climate and science agency personnel
- Charissee Ridgeway, M.P.S. ’15, press secretary, White House Council on Environmental Quality
- Matthew Sidler, M.A. ’20, CERT ’21, special assistant to the national climate adviser, White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy