WASHINGTON — When Joseph R. Biden, Jr. won the presidential election, his top candidate to lead the nation’s most powerful environmental agency appeared clear: Mary D. Nichols, California’s clean air regulator and arguably the country’s most experienced climate change official, was seen as a lock to run the Environmental Protection Agency.

Now Mr. Biden’s team is scrambling to find someone else, according to several people who have spoken with the presidential transition team. The chief reason: This month, a group of more than 70 environmental justice groups wrote to the Biden transition charging that Ms. Nichols has a “bleak track record in addressing environmental racism.”

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Photo credit: Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press