Cabinet of firsts but first a climate cabinet

President-elect Joe Biden plans to nominate Haaland as interior secretary. The historic pick would make her the first Native American to lead the powerful federal agency that has wielded influence over the nation's tribes for generations. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

The Associated Press

Deal-makers and fighters make up Biden's new climate team

Ellen Knickmeyer and Matthew Daly

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden wrapped up a team heavy on deal-makers and fighters to lead his climate effort Thursday, tasking it with remaking and cleaning up the nation's transportation and power-plant systems, and as fast as politically possible. 

While the president-elect's picks have the experience to do the heavy lifting required in a climate overhaul of the U.S. economy, they also seem to be reassuring skeptics that he won't neglect the low-income, working class and minority communities hit hardest by fossil fuel pollution and climate change.

Progressives, energy lobbyists, environmental groups and auto workers welcomed Biden's choice of popular former Mayor Pete Buttigieg as transportation secretary. His picks of former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm for energy secretary and former Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy as leader of domestic climate efforts also were met with general applause.

Biden is also tapping environmental lawyer and Obama administration official Brenda Mallory to run the Council on Environmental Quality, the president-elect announced Thursday. 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 its creation more than half a century ago. 

Along with EPA nominee Michael Regan and Interior nominee Deb Haaland, Buttigieg, Granholm and McCarthy will be part of an effort to rapidly build and develop technology to retool the United States' transportation and power grid systems from petroleum and coal to a greater reliance on solar, wind and other cleaner forms of energy.

Haaland, who is vice chair of the House committee on Natural Resources, will have a significant role managing public lands. "Right now," she said in an earlier statement, "public lands emit close to 25 percent of the carbon emissions, the total carbon emissions of our country. And that's because this administration has gone hog wild with leasing off land to the gas and oil industry."

Biden late Thursday called it a "tested team of bold thinkers" who "know how to pull every lever of government to take on the urgent, existential threat of climate change." 

"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," he said in a statement.

The president-elect planned to introduce his climate team at an event Saturday in Wilmington, Delaware.

Biden has pledged to make slowing global warming and its impacts a top priority and has laid out an ambitious plan to reduce U.S. greenhouse emissions to net-zero by 2050. The plan includes an immediate return to the global 2015 Paris agreement on climate and a pledge to stop all climate-damaging emissions from U.S. power plants by 2035. 

Among those on his climate team, Granholm as Michigan's governor helped nudge auto workers toward accepting a switch to production of more electric vehicles. That will be one of several big ticket clean-energy efforts she and others in the administration will be pushing under Biden's promised $2 trillion climate plan, which will face obstacles from Republicans in Congress and battles over which priorities to implement first.

"She's a good lady," said retired United Auto Workers local president Pat Sweeney, who remembers Granholm for helping broker the Detroit auto bailout during the 2008-09 financial crisis. "She'll do a good job." 

Sweeney recalled Granholm personally telephoning him and other local union officials – more than once – to push for concessions needed to close the multibillion-dollar federal bailout to keep U.S. auto plants open. "She told us she was counting on us not to let her down, after she put her neck on the line for us," Sweeney said.

Also helping drive Biden's plan will be McCarthy, who as EPA head under President Barack Obama pushed for landmark rules to cut planet-warming pollution. In her new position, which does not require Senate confirmation, McCarthy will oversee a broad interagency effort to address climate change across the federal government.

McCarthy would be the domestic counterpart to former Secretary of State John Kerry, who will serve as a special climate envoy.

McCarthy will be "an equal match to Kerry's presence on the international side,'' said energy lobbyist Frank Maisano. "You have two high-profile, serious people leading climate efforts."

A spokesperson for the Sunrise Movement, which has pushed for the Green New Deal and other progressive policies, called McCarthy's selection "very encouraging," because "she understands the urgent threat of the climate crisis."

McCarthy is popular among Democrats, but has tangled repeatedly with Republicans, who accused the Obama administration of punishing U.S. businesses and stifling the economy when she led EPA.

"The real test" of Biden's commitment will be "if the role has the teeth needed to be effective," said spokesperson Garrett Blad.

The climate effort laid out in Biden's plan would take a series of heavy lifts. His plan involves pouring billions of dollars into technological research to better store solar and wind power and clean up emissions from fossil fuel plants, build electric charging stations and other infrastructure around the country, and make every aspect of life more energy efficient.

Environmental groups are hailing Granholm's selection, saying she will bring a focus on electric cars and renewable energy that is 180 degrees from the Trump administration's emphasis on coal and other fossil fuels.

"The days of dirty fossil fuels and exorbitantly expensive nuclear reactors as the nation's primary energy are in the rearview mirror," said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based advocacy group.

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Knickmeyer reported from Oklahoma City. Associated Press writers Tom Krisher in Detroit, Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento, Calif., and Aamer Madhani in Wilmington, Del., contributed to this report.

Comments (2)
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i certainly wish Ms Haaland the best wishes, its amazing to go from first elected House Representative to Cabinet post in 2 years. the Climate challenges are financial, in How we maintain a stable economic base, which oil-fossil fuels have done so ,for the last 100 years or so, while we "transition" to a greener economic's easy to pass legislation, but difficult to impliment, in reality. the iseadistic "electric cars" will require subsidizing just to begin building , to manufacture, and parts will have to be imported from China. as our manufacturing capabilities is ,has left the country, except boutique manufacturing for defense contracts. How to get he private sectors, to invest trillions of dollars, providing jobs,in "green"industries that are at best fledglings right now.the expansion should be funded thru private sector money, not taxpayer subsidies, or else,it becomes another "boutique" industry, like Tesla, Boston Robotics,Moon Rockets, great headlines but fewer and fewer are employed. our economic base is fossil fuel, the four car families, endless vacations via air travel, our leisure economic base, how we spend the wealth of this past few decades, is catching up to all of us., it's never been better than this, for "having it all" anytime you want it. maybe that's part of our air pollution problem. i think focusing on air pollution, and skipping the "buzz word media mentality" Climates always change, part of the natural order Mother Earth provides.


the advances in technology of the last few decades has kinda turned our cultures into a Land of Make Believe, the fantasy life the 24/7 internet provides, the ability, to realize financing the fantasy, is another matter. the Chinese built the Three Gorges dam, to provide electric power for their great industrial expansion, but our enviormental concerns, prohibit that. v our power grid,is currently unable to facilitate, the hundreds millions, of electric cars planned in graphic fantasies. we really need to find, promote suitable sources of non fossil fuel power to make these changes. also get the rest of the world, on the same page. we shifted manufacturing to clean our backyard up. but polluted everyone elses ,in order to provide our goods.