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The Associated Press and Indian Country Today 

WILMINGTON, Del. — Just as the United States has needed a unified, national response to COVID-19, it needs one for dealing with climate change, President-elect Joe Biden said Saturday as he rolled out key members of his environmental team.

“We literally have no time to waste," Biden told reporters as introduced his choices.

He also stressed the diversity of an emerging team that he described as "brilliant, qualified, tested and barrier-busting."

"Already there are more people of color in our Cabinet than any Cabinet ever," said the former vice president, who has promised to assemble a group of department leaders who reflect America's diversity. 

President-elect Joe Biden announces his climate and energy team nominees and appointees at The Queen Theater in Wilmington Del., Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The nominees Biden introduced had compelling personal stories that they cited as guiding them if confirmed by the Senate.

New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland, Laguna and Jemez Pueblos, would be the first Native American to lead the Interior Department, which has wielded influence over the nation's tribes for generations. 

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Haaland began her remarks Saturday with a land acknowledgment to the Lenape tribal nation.

“The president-elect and vice president-elect are committed to a diverse Cabinet, and I am honored and humbled to accept their nomination for secretary of the Interior,” said Haaland, her voice cracking with emotion.

She noted that growing up in her mother’s pueblo household made her “fierce," but said it wasn't always easy. She dealt with homelessness, relied on food stamps at times and raised her child as a single mother.

"These struggles give me perspectives though, so that I can help people to succeed."

Haaland also referenced the values she learned from her grandparents, saying they maintained their culture despite being taken from their families as children and sent to boarding schools.

"I’m a product of their resilience," she said.

Haaland's confirmation would break a 245-year record of non-Native officials, mostly male, serving as the top federal official over Indian affairs in a government that worked to dispossess Indigenous people of their land and, until recently, assimilate them into White culture.

Deb Haaland - JBB

"This moment is profound when we consider the fact that a former secretary of the Interior once proclaimed his goal to 'civilize or exterminate' us," Haaland said. "I’m a living testament to the failure of that horrific ideology.”

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Haaland was referring to Alexander H.H. Stuart, who said that in 1851.

She also noted the department has a role to play in addressing both climate change and environmental injustice, and pledged that its decisions would "once again be driven by science."

"The president-elect and vice president-elect know that issues under Interior’s jurisdiction aren’t simply about conservation," she said. "They’re woven in with justice, good jobs and closing the racial wealth and health gaps.”

Biden's approach is a shift from Donald Trump's presidency, which has been marked by efforts to boost oil and gas production while rolling back government efforts intended to safeguard the environment. The incoming Biden team will try to undo or block many of the current administration's initiatives. There also will be an emphasis on looking out for the low-income, working class and minority communities hit hardest by fossil fuel pollution and climate change.

Former two-term Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm is in line to be energy secretary. She described arriving in the U.S. at age 4 and brought from Canada by a family “seeking opportunity." She said her father found work as a bank teller and retired as head of the bank.

“It's because of my family's journey and my experience in fighting for hardworking Michigan families that I have become obsessed, obsessed with gaining good-paying jobs in America in a global economy," Granholm said. 

North Carolina official Michael Regan would be the first African American man to run the Environmental Protection Agency. Regan, the state environmental head since 2017, has made a name for himself by pursuing cleanups of industrial toxins and helping the low-income and minority communities significantly affected by pollution.

In this Jan. 3, 2017 file photo, Michael Regan listens as North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announces that Regan will lead the Department of Environmental Quality in North Carolina, at the Executive Manson in Raleigh, N.C. President-elect Joe Biden has picked an experienced but not widely known state regulator, Michael Regan of North Carolina, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Regan is head of North Carolina’s environmental agency. (Chuck Liddy/The News & Observer via AP)

Regan said he grew up in North Carolina hunting and fishing with his father and grandfather and that he has great respect for the outdoors and the country's natural resources, but he also had a respiratory condition that required him to use an inhaler.

“Since the start of my career, my goals have been the same," Regan said. “To safeguard our natural resources, to improve the quality of our air and water, to protect our families and our communities, and to help them see the opportunities of a cleaner, healthier world."

Biden's nominee to oversee the Council on Environmental Quality is Brenda Mallory. The office oversees environmental reviews for virtually all major infrastructure projects and advises the president on major environmental issues.

If confirmed, she would be the first African American to hold the position since it was created more than half a century ago.

Two other members of the team introduced Saturday do not need Senate confirmation. 

They are Gina McCarthy, to serve as national climate adviser, and Ali Zaidi, to serve as her deputy. McCarthy was EPA administrator from 2013 to 2017 during President Barack Obama's second term.

Saturday's event was streamed on Biden’s Facebook page and on Youtube.

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