Call In The Cavalry

I’ve been following the announced appointments of the Biden administration relative to energy and climate issues, and so far, I’m impressed.  After four dismal years of the T***p administration’s systematic dismantling of environmental protections and policies, it’s as though Planet Earth said “Call in the Cavalry” and Biden and his new team appeared, riding over the hill.

In evaluating potential appointments, Mr. Biden’s inner circle routinely asks “is the person climate-ambitious?” of candidates, even for lower profile positions like the White House budget and regulatory offices.  And while there are still several important cabinet positions yet to be named, many of the key positions associated with climate issues have been announced.

Biden’s first climate announcement was John Kerry as the U.S. Climate Envoy.  Many see this appointment a demonstration of Biden’s serious commitment to climate.  As a former Secretary of State, Kerry was heavily involved in negotiating the Paris Climate Accord and more recently, has called on Varshini Prakash, the 27-year-old co-founder of the climate activist group the Sunrise Movement, to work with Bernie Sanders campaign to develop Biden’s climate policy initiatives.  Kerry will have to navigate relations and commitments with other countries, and re-establish the U.S. as a credible partner.   

For the Environmental Protection Agency, Biden has selected Michael S. Regan, currently North Carolina’s top environmental regulator.  No agency will be more fundamental to the politically sensitive work of actually reducing United States planet-warming emissions than the E.P.A. Regan will be on the front lines of undoing perhaps one of President Trump’s most sprawling transformations of the federal government: the unraveling of a half-century of pollution and climate regulations, and the rejection of the science that underpinned them.  In addition to the numerous rules he needs to rescind and replace, he must oversee the rebuilding of the E.P.A.’s operations and restoration of the morale of the career staff.  Environmental activists in North Carolina praised Mr. Regan’s work in their state.  Before North Carolina, he worked as an air quality specialist at the E.P.A. under both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations and has also worked for the Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit advocacy group.  Megan Mullin, an associate professor of environmental politics at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment said: “He has navigated well through really tough terrain.  North Carolina is as tough a place as any to uphold environmental laws in the face of opposition from utilities, the farm lobby, and hostile legislators.”

Biden has appointed Gina McCarthy, who served as President Barack Obama’s E.P.A. chief, to lead a new White House Office of Climate Policy.  During the Obama administration, Ms. McCarthy was the architect of landmark rules to cut planet-warming pollution. In her new role, she would be in charge of coordinating domestic climate change policies across the federal government.

Brenda Mallory is Biden’s pick for the White House office of Council on Environmental Quality. This office oversees environmental reviews for virtually all major infrastructure projects, including pipelines and highways, and is expected to have an expanded focus on environmental justice under Ms. Mallory.  An environmental lawyer, she was previously the general counsel of this office and was responsible for crafting the legal underpinnings of then-President Barack Obama’s environmental agenda.  Ms. Mallory currently serves as the director of regulatory policy at the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Jennifer Granholm, a former Michigan governor, is Biden’s choice for the Energy Department.  Praise for Granholm began coming quickly as the official announcement was made. U.S. Senator Gary Peters, D-Mich., called her “a tireless advocate for Michigan workers” and said her experience working with the auto industry will be important as the Biden administration looks to help automakers transition into making more electric vehicles.  Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer said Granholm “has been a fierce advocate for clean energy for decades,” spending her term as governor trying to “focused Michigan’s economic recovery from the Great Recession on clean energy, which helped push national markets towards renewable technologies.”

Mr. Biden named Pete Buttigieg, the former Democratic presidential candidate and mayor of South Bend, to be his secretary of the Department of Transportation, a job that is expected to become climate-centric in the next administration as Mr. Biden pushes policies to promote electric vehicles and climate-resilient infrastructure.

In a historic decision, Mr. Biden has chosen Deb Haaland, a congressional representative from New Mexico and a Native American, to lead the Interior Department, an agency that for much of the nation’s history, played a central role in the dislocation and abuse of Indigenous communities.  If confirmed by the Senate, Ms. Haaland would be the first Native American to lead a cabinet-level agency. She would oversee a sprawling department responsible for some 500 million acres of public lands, including national parks, oil and gas drilling sites and endangered species habitat.  She would also be responsible for executing one of Mr. Biden’s most controversial proposals: his pledge to ban all new hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on public lands.  (Already, fossil fuel groups are pushing back, urging Senators to block her confirmation.)

The degree to which Biden’s “Climate Cavalry” will be successful depends a lot on what happens in Georgia where two senate races have yet to be decided.  Winning those seats would flip the Senate from the Republicans since any 50-50 decisions would be decided by Vice-President Kamala Harris. 

Regarding legislation, one of the first Biden climate initiatives would be incorporating climate features within a much-needed economic stimulus bill.  Additionally, an opportunity exists for bipartisan legislation that creates a carbon tax to reduce US greenhouse-gas emissions — an idea that has backing among many conservatives and business leaders who are concerned about the climate.

But regardless of what happens in Georgia, many scientists and environmentalists expect Biden will immediately use his executive authority to advance his climate agenda across the full suite of federal agencies.  The talent and diverse experience of these appointments should enable Biden’s administration to hit the ground running on day 1.

As I noted earlier, I’m impressed by the team Biden has selected to address Planet Earth’s Climate Crisis.  In fact, I’m almost a bit excited.  Regardless of how successful this team will be, it will be so much better than the devastation T***p’s team has been causing.  It should be an interesting year.

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