Biden unveils team ‘ready on day one’ to fight climate change

U.S. president-elect Joe Biden Image: Flickr/Beemergirl99

President-elect Joe Biden has selected former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, North Carolina environmental regulator Michael Regan and Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico to advance his climate policy and strengthen safeguards against pollution.

If confirmed, Granholm would be secretary of energy, Regan would become Environmental Protection Agency administrator and Haaland secretary of the Interior.

The team announced Thursday also includes Brenda Mallory as chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, Gina McCarthy as national climate adviser and Ali Zaidi as deputy national climate adviser.

“This brilliant, tested, trailblazing team will be ready on day one to confront the existential threat of climate change with a unified national response rooted in science and equity,” Biden said in a statement released Thursday night.

“They share my belief that we have no time to waste to confront the climate crisis, protect our air and drinking water, and deliver justice to communities that have long shouldered the burdens of environmental harms,” Biden said.

Some of the appointments are history-making. If confirmed, Haaland would be the first Native American in a U.S. cabinet post, Mallory would be the first African American to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Regan would be the first Black man to serve as EPA administrator.

“These visionary leaders will ensure that the Biden-Harris administration fights hard every single day for the health of all communities and centers bold climate action in racial justice and equity,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters.

Progressive activists successfully championed several of the selections and urged Biden to choose environmental justice proponents and fresh voices over Washington insiders and traditionalists.

Government veterans

Still, the group includes government veterans who have experience wielding regulation to fight pollution and the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change. With Republicans set to hold at least 50 seats in the Senate, Biden may have to lean heavily on regulations and executive orders to achieve his goals to decarbonize the electric grid in 15 years, propel renewable energy and pare fossil fuel development on federal land.

McCarthy, who now leads the Natural Resources Defense Council, pioneered the first-ever limits on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants during her tenure leading the EPA. And Mallory, 63, previously served as a general counsel in the CEQ she would now lead if confirmed. Regan already worked at the EPA for roughly a decade, though he’s most recently been the top environmental regulator in North Carolina.

Several of the candidates have staked out positions against fossil fuel projects that are expected to provoke scrutiny from Republicans in the Senate. Haaland, for instance, has said she’s “wholeheartedly against fracking and drilling on public lands” – a position that was celebrated by environmentalists on Thursday even as it provoked alarm in the oil and gas industry.

“Haaland has been clear about her commitment to ending the exploitation of public lands by fossil fuel corporations,” said Mitch Jones, policy director of Food & Water Watch, an environmental group. Picking Haaland, he said, “is a bold move that signals that Biden is serious about pursuing a full ban on oil and gas leases on public lands.”

An industry’s warnings

The oil and gas industry has already warned of lost jobs and revenue if Biden makes good on vows to block new drilling and fracking on federal lands. Haaland’s home state of New Mexico is near the epicenter of the clash –– with burgeoning oil production that once paid for a free-college program and now provides roughly 39 per cent of the state’s budget.

Any move to curtail oil development could have a significant impact in New Mexico. Roughly 90 per cent of all production in the state’s portion of the oil-rich Permian shale basin was on state and federal lands last year, according to the New Mexico Oil & Gas Association.

The Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico said Thursday it had “serious concerns about the selection of Congresswoman Haaland for the job of interior secretary.”

“Ms. Haaland has repeatedly demonstrated contempt towards our industry, especially regarding the need for a balanced approach to public land management,” the group said. “We urge congressional leaders to closely examine her anti-oil & gas record as they consider this selection.”

Haaland, 60, who is Laguna Pueblo, would be the first Native American to serve in any cabinet position in U.S. history. A Democrat, she was just elected to her second term in the House of Representatives.

Supports Green New Deal

Haaland has pledged support for a ban on the fracking technique that helped propel U.S. oil and gas development to record levels. She’s also a supporter of the Green New Deal, a sweeping plan for a “10-year national mobilization” to shift the U.S. to zero-emission energy sources with trillions in spending on social programs.

Federal lands are a prime source of fossil fuels, as well as the greenhouse gas emissions that come from burning them. Federal lands and waters together accounted for 22 per cent of total U.S. oil production and 12 per cent of U.S. natural gas production last year according to the Energy Information Administration.

At the same time, the oil, gas and coal extracted on federal lands and waters are responsible for about 24% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, according to a 2018 report from the U.S. Geological Survey.

Regan’s three-year tenure as secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality also has put him in the middle of major disputes about cleaning up pollution and building new energy infrastructure.

He’s had a mixed record vetting gas pipelines that would cut through the state, having blocked a water quality certification essential to a planned extension of the Mountain Valley Pipeline but previously providing that critical certification for the Atlantic Coast pipeline. The Atlantic Coast pipeline, since abandoned by developers, would have carried gas from West Virginia to public utilities in Virginia and North Carolina.

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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