Welcome to our first edition of the #BidenClean100 list! We know the media, influencers and subject matter experts transforming the public sector. Each week, we will track latest updates on Biden Administration personnel changes to executive orders impacting clean energy and climate sectors.
Biden’s picks to lead his climate, clean energy and environment agenda are rich in executive experience and familiarity with the federal regulatory process, underscoring a strategy of bypassing Congress given the low odds of major climate legislation making its way through Capitol Hill.
Biden has tapped former Secretary of State John Kerry to be his Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, which for the first time will be an official dedicated to climate change on the National Security Commission. This position would not have to be confirmed by the Senate. Kerry, who as secretary of state signed the 2016 global Paris climate treaty among 190 countries to keep future global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, will focus on drawing fresh pledges from other countries in the run up to next November’s United Nations climate summit in Glasgow. Kerry has said the existing Paris climate accord “has to be stronger.”
Sue Biniaz, a veteran career State Department climate official, has accepted a job on Kerry’s staff. Jonathan Pershing, who was special climate envoy under President Obama at the State Department, may also join Kerry’s team in a senior role. Kerry may install a deputy to coordinate activities at State while he focuses on bigger-picture items.
Biden has also called for a climate summit with heads of state in his first 100 days and the international community will be looking for him to go beyond the Obama administration’s promised cuts of 26-28 percent in nationwide emissions below 2005 levels by 2025.
Another recent addition to Biden’s National Security Council staff is Melanie Nakagawa, who was deputy assistant secretary for energy transformation at the State Department under Obama and a senior adviser on climate change to Kerry there.
Biden has also appointed former Obama EPA chief Gina McCarthy to be the domestic counterpart to Kerry as White House climate coordinator. McCarthy will oversee a broad interagency effort to leverage the federal government’s power to cut greenhouse gas emissions. McCarthy shepherded the Clean Power Plan, one of the Obama administration’s signature climate actions. She’s a popular figure on the left and has frequently tangled with Republicans, but will not have to be confirmed by the Senate. Ali Zaidi, who helped write Biden’s climate plan and is New York’s deputy secretary for energy and environment, will be McCarthy’s deputy. Zaidi was associate director for natural resources, energy and science at Obama’s White House Office of Management and Budget.
Biden’s selection of Brian Deese to be his top economic adviser as director of the National Economic Council further indicates that climate change will be an economy-wide challenge encompassing the entire federal government. Deese, who would also not require Senate confirmation, helped shape the global Paris climate agreement and strict fuel-efficiency standards as a senior advisor to President Obama. Biden touted him as the first NEC director “who is a true expert on climate policy.”
Positions that require Senate confirmation also reflect his agenda’s focus on environmental justice and include landmark firsts for racial, gender and other diversity.
EPA: Michael Regan, head of North Carolina’s environmental agency, after the initial frontrunner, outgoing California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols, was criticized by environmental justice advocates as being ineffective. Regan, who would be the first Black man to oversee EPA, also served at the agency’s air office during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.
White House Council on Environmental Quality: Brenda Mallory, who leads regulatory affairs at the Southern Environmental Law Center, in a position that traditionally has coordinated policy across the government. Mallory was among a list of other finalists that had strong backgrounds in tackling environmental justice inequities in poor and minority communities. Mallory was previously general counsel at CEQ under Obama.
Interior Department: Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), who would be the first Native American to lead the 171-year-old department, which oversees public and tribal lands and represents about one-fifth of total U.S. land. Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, has pledged to transform Interior from a champion of fossil fuel development into a promoter of renewable energy and policies to mitigate climate change.
Energy Department: Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who is a popular pick on the left and has said “we ought to be doing everything we possibly can to keep fossil fuel energy in the ground and developing the renewable side.” She had a lot of experience with the auto industry during her two terms as Michigan governor, which could come in handy with Biden’s aggressive agenda for electric vehicles and related charging infrastructure. Biden passed over, among others, former Obama Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who had been criticized by environmentalists for his fossil fuel and nuclear ties.
Commerce Department: Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo to oversee a Commerce Department that may place renewed emphasis on promoting U.S. exports while adopting a more active stance on climate change. Biden has promised to enact a “national strategy to develop a low-carbon manufacturing sector in every state.”
Agriculture Department: Former Obama Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to reprise his role. The chance to work on Biden’s climate agenda “likely made the job more attractive for Vilsack to return.”
Transportation Department: Former mayor and presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, who stressed the need to “build back better through modern and sustainable infrastructure that creates millions of good-paying jobs, revitalizes communities, and empowers all Americans to thrive.” Biden said Buttigieg will “take on the challenges at the intersection of jobs, infrastructure, equity, and climate.”
Treasury Department: Former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, who would be the first woman to be Treasury Secretary and has been outspoken on the role that central banks and other financial regulators must play in addressing climate change.
Big banks on Wall Street are already beginning to position themselves as allies to the incoming Biden administration as they face the prospect of new rules to force lenders to deal with natural disasters and rising sea levels. The Biden administration would also increase scrutiny on the role of U.S. banks in providing billions of dollars of financing each year to fossil fuel production.
More positions may also be created. A team of former Obama officials and climate experts recommended a series of recommendations to help the Biden-Harris administration “hit the ground running,” including creating a White House National Climate Council, although detractors say that would be redundant and unnecessary.
The Biden-Harris transition team had climate experts and advocates sprinkled throughout, including teams overseeing EPA, the departments of Justice, Interior, Energy, State and Defense, the Small Business Administration and the Federal Reserve. This is another early indicator of how climate change and clean energy will be a focal point among key officials in the new administration and as part of policymaking previously considered outside that scope.
The Interior Department transition team also notably lacks oil and gas industry representation.The inclusion of Brad Markell, the executive director of the AFL-CIO’s industrial union council, on the Energy Department’s transition team underscores the promise of creating “good-paying” clean energy jobs.
Our team and network of clean energy experts is on the ground monitoring changes to this landscape on a daily basis. We know the media, influencers and subject matter experts transforming public and private sectors. Interested in more about how we can help your team develop an approach to the clean energy transition? Drop us a line at laura <at> teamsilverline <dotcom> for more information.