Throughout his campaign for president, Joe Biden made clear he understood that climate change poses an existential threat to our country and he ran on making climate one of his administration’s top priorities. On December 19th, 2020, then President-Elect Biden announced the nominees that would set about to do the hard but necessary work he talked about on the campaign. In explaining his selection at the press conference where he formally introduced his climate nominees, the President-elect said that he chose a team that prioritizes making clean energy jobs and environmental protection a cornerstone of his economic plans.
Deb Haaland, Congresswoman from New Mexico, and a member of the House Progressive Caucus, has been nominated to lead the Department of the Interior. If confirmed, Haaland will be the first ever Native American cabinet member and would oversee an agency responsible for managing the United States’ relationship with hundreds of recognized tribes. In addition to tribal relations, the Interior department manages the nation’s vast natural resources as well as millions of acres of federal lands that include national parks and wildlife refuges. The leasing of federal land for renewable development is a top priority of the Biden Administration and Haaland could oversee this effort.
Jennifer Granholm, former Governor of Michigan was selected to be Energy Secretary. Granholm is credited with getting the state’s first renewable energy portfolio standard through a divided legislature and working with the auto industry to develop electric vehicles. While the Department of Energy’s principal mission is to manage and protect the country’s nuclear stockpile, it plays a major role in funding energy and technology research and establishing and maintaining energy efficiency standards.
Michael Regan, North Carolina’s top environmental regulator, was named to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Mr. Regan, who currently leads North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, would be the first Black man to lead the EPA. Mr. Regan said growing up in North Carolina, and experiencing asthma drove him to understand the link between pollution and public health.
White House Climate Team
Brenda Mallory, a longtime environmental attorney, will chair the Council on Environmental Quality. Mallory will be the first Black woman to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality. CEQ advises the President and develops policies on environmental justice, federal sustainability, public lands, oceans, and wildlife conservation, among other areas.
John Kerry, former Secretary of State was named as “Climate Czar,” the international presidential envoy on climate change. This position is a newly established cabinet-level position. Kerry will be the inaugural envoy. As Climate Czar, Kerry will be dedicated to climate change issues and addressing the climate crisis as it affects national security.
On January 14, 2021, President-elect Biden rounded out his White House climate team with policy hands who’ve spent the Trump era defending climate regulations, engineering new policy and campaigning on the issue. These positions do not have to be confirmed by the Senate. These staffers will coordinate climate policy from the White House across the federal government. Meanwhile, the aforementioned agencies will use their statutory authorities to write regulations, grants and loans. The White House climate team will include:
- David Hayes as special assistant to the president for climate policy.
Gina McCarthy is former President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency administrator who Mr. Biden has tapped to head a new White House Office of Climate Policy. She is former President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency administrator, where she drafted the Clean Power Plan, which when unveiled in 2014 sought to reduce emissions from the electricity sector by a third from 2005 levels.
- Brian Deese as Director of the White House National Economic Council. Deese helped former President Barack Obama rescue the auto industry during the 2009 economic crisis and played a key role in negotiating the Paris climate accords.
- Cecilia Martinez as senior director for environmental justice at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
- Maggie Thomas as chief of staff for the Office of Domestic Climate Policy.
- Sonia Aggarwal as senior adviser for climate policy and innovation.
- Jahi Wise as senior adviser for climate policy and finance.
- Jeff Marootian as special assistant to the president for climate and science agency personnel, working within the Presidential Personnel Office.
Biden Administration’s Climate Agenda
During his campaign, Joe Biden ran on key clean energy priorities including enacting clean energy legislation to achieve economy-wide net-zero emissions no later than 2050; investing in clean energy innovation; making environmental justice a priority and holding polluters accountable. However, the Biden administration faces an uphill battle as it will inherit the de-regulated climate policies of the Trump administration. The Trump administration denied man-made climate change and reversed more than 100 environmental regulations, supported the increased production of fossil fuel production and oil drilling on public lands – including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The incoming Administration will be forced to spend significant time unwinding as many of these deregulatory actions as possible. Biden is also expected to immediately sign more than a dozen executive orders to undo Trump administration’s environmental policies – including rejoining the Paris Climate Accord. A Democratic-controlled Congress could rescind problematic regulations through the Congressional Review Act.
Prioritizing climate change is even more pressing as Scientific American Journal just declared 2020 as one of the hottest years on record. The Biden Administration has been clear that is intends to enact policies to reduce planet-warming emissions with restoring the economy and creating jobs. As importantly, President-elect Biden has shown that he understands we cannot address climate without addressing climate justice—a recognition that vulnerable communities have borne a disproportionate brunt of climate change and fossil fuel pollution. Central to the Biden campaign’s climate platform was a commitment to put the US on “an irreversible path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide, by no later than 2050.” Other climate priorities include:
- Calling for 500,000 new electric vehicle charging stations
- The construction of 1.5 million new energy-efficient homes and public housing units
- The creation of a “civilian climate corps” to carry out climate and conservation projects.
- Restoring environmental regulations
- Environmental Justice
Climate Change as Economic Recovery
The Coronavirus Pandemic has caused an economic crisis. As part of his economic recovery plan, President-elect Biden has promised to make tackling climate change a cornerstone of his coronavirus recovery plan. Millions of jobs have been lost nationwide, including thousands in the green sector. According to the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA), a board Nexamp joined in 2018, around 96,000 people working in renewable energy, primarily wind and solar power filed for unemployment as the pandemic intensified. In Illinois – a state in which Nexamp operates, up to 3,500 solar jobs have been lost. These losses erased five years of job gains in the solar sector. President-elect Biden understands that fighting climate change is an opportunity to create millions of sustainable jobs. His call to “Build Back Better” is heartening and could usher in another clean energy boom like the one that followed the last economic recession.