WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden introduced key members of his climate change team Saturday, declaring that his administration will connect the effort to reduce planet-warming emissions with restoring the economy and creating jobs.
Biden, speaking at an event in Wilmington, Delaware, said the climate team will be “ready on Day One, which is essential because we literally have no time to waste.”
A top lieutenant will be Gina McCarthy, former President Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency administrator who Biden has tapped to head a new White House Office of Climate Policy.
The group includes progressives like Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico, Biden’s choice to lead the Department of the Interior and a co-sponsor of the Green New Deal, and establishment figures like Jennifer Granholm, the former governor of Michigan, who Biden selected to be energy secretary.
Michael Regan, North Carolina’s top environmental regulator, was named to lead the EPA, and Brenda Mallory, a longtime environmental attorney, will chair the Council on Environmental Quality. McCarthy’s deputy will be Ali Zaidi, who currently serves as the deputy secretary for energy and environment for New York state. And last month Biden named former Secretary of State John Kerry as an international presidential envoy on climate change.
“Folks, we’re in a crisis,” Biden said Saturday. “Just like we need to be a unified nation to respond to COVID-19, we need a unified national response to climate change.”
Kamala Harris, the vice president-elect and California senator, said the state had endured the worst wildfire season on record this year. Calling wildfires “just one symptom of our growing climate crisis” along with historic flooding in the Midwest and a record hurricane season, she said, “Our climate crisis is not a partisan issue and it is not a hoax. It is an existential threat to all of us.”
Citing the costs and loss of life from wildfires that raged across the West this year, Biden vowed to restore the regulations that President Donald Trump rolled back and said, “We will set new ambitious standards that our workers are ready to meet today.”
When Biden takes office in January he will inherit a government still struggling to contain the coronavirus pandemic and a shattered U.S. economy that has suffered millions of job losses. He also faces a monumental rebuilding effort after four years in which the Trump administration reversed more than 100 environmental regulations, mocked climate science and championed the production of the fossil fuels chiefly responsible for warming the planet.
On Saturday, Biden said he intends to make tackling climate change a cornerstone of his coronavirus recovery action, calling for 500,000 new electric vehicle charging stations, the construction of 1.5 million new energy-efficient homes and public housing units, and the creation of a “civilian climate corps” to carry out climate and conservation projects.
He said he will prioritize environmental justice and restore the regulations that President Donald Trump rolled back. And he delivered a direct appeal to federal scientists and other career staff members saying his administration will “honor the integrity of the office” in which they work.
Climate policy is expected to play a critical role in the Biden administration, the president-elect said. He also highlighted the role of Granholm, the former Michigan governor who 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 curbing carbon emissions is expected to create friction with leaders of fossil fuel-dependent states, members of the team sought to cast fighting climate change as an effort that will create jobs. Over the next decade countries and companies intend to invest trillions of dollars in electric vehicles, grid technology, wind turbines and other clean energy components.
The team includes a number of historic firsts.
Haaland, Biden’s choice to lead the Interior Department, would be the first Native American cabinet secretary in history and would helm an agency responsible for managing the United States’ relationship with hundreds of recognized tribes.
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 agency also oversees the listing of endangered and threatened species. Haaland opposed several Trump administration policies related to federal lands, including his efforts to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil and gas drilling.
“Growing up in my mother’s Pueblo household made me fierce,” Haaland said. She vowed to protect public lands from oil and gas drilling, saying, “I’ll be fierce for all of us.”
Regan, who leads North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, would be the first Black man to lead the EPA. Regan said growing up hunting and fishing in North Carolina with his family made him curious about the environment, and experiencing asthma drove him to understand the link between pollution and public health.
Biden called Regan “a leader who will respect EPA’s place” as the lead agency charged with protecting the air and water of the United States.
Brenda Mallory, a longtime environmental lawyer who spent more than 15 years at the EPA, will be the first Black woman to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
All four positions must be confirmed by the Senate.
So far, none of Biden’s selections have met with Republican resistance, although some groups that oppose action on climate change have called Haaland a “radical” on energy issues. And North Carolina’s Republican senators did not respond when asked if they intend to support Regan’s nomination.
Daniel Keylin, a spokesman for Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., said in a statement that the senator “expects the EPA to balance the promotion of clean energy with the unique needs of America’s farmers and small businesses, and not return to the Obama administration’s crushing regulation-first approach.”
Details about how Biden intends to coordinate the team around climate change remain unclear.
In a letter to the new administration, four Democratic senators led by Ed Markey of Massachusetts asked Biden to create an overarching entity that reports directly to the president, to elevate interagency councils designed to address environmental justice, and to ensure that climate-focused leaders are given authority within key economic agencies like the Treasury and within the office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
The lawmakers urged Biden to “adopt the approach of past mobilizations against major national threats, just as the Roosevelt Administration did to coordinate the executive branch during World War II.”
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