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Biden Announces Climate Team, Including 1st-Ever National Climate Adviser

Dec 20, 2020
Originally published on December 21, 2020 6:36 am

Former EPA chief Gina McCarthy is President-elect Joe Biden's pick for domestic climate adviser. She'll have a big role pushing for aggressive climate action across the government.

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President-elect Joe Biden is taking a very different path on climate from all the presidents who came before him. He formally introduced the nominees for his climate team yesterday. They include the heads of agencies focused on the environment and energy but also the first-ever national climate adviser.


JOE BIDEN: Folks, we're in a crisis. Just like we need to be a unified nation in response to COVID-19, we need a unified national response to climate change.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jennifer Ludden of NPR's climate team has been looking into what that might mean, and she joins us this morning.



GARCIA-NAVARRO: So first, tell us about the people Biden has nominated to address what he's called the existential climate crisis.

LUDDEN: Right. Well, there is a lot of experience among them. And Biden made a big point of saying this - they are incredibly diverse. If confirmed, for example, Congresswoman Deb Haaland, who grew emotional accepting her nomination - she'd be the first Native American to lead the Interior Department - the first in the Cabinet, actually. Michael Regan would be the first Black man to head the Environmental Protection Agency. And they and others talked about this need to address, you know, environmental injustice for communities of color.

The national climate adviser, who does not need Senate confirmation - she'll be Gina McCarthy. She led the EPA under Obama. So she helped craft a lot of the climate policies that President Trump has rolled back.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So with all the other agencies that touch on climate as well, why also have a national adviser inside the White House?

LUDDEN: Biden talks about a whole-of-government approach. You know, the driving message is that climate action will help the economy and create jobs and address impacts that are affecting all kinds of aspects of our lives. It is remarkable how he has spoken about climate change with pretty much all his nominees. He talks about how extreme weather is, you know, devastating for farmers, for businesses, how it disrupts global supply chains, threatens national security. So the idea is it's urgent. There are things many agencies can do. And part of Gina McCarthy's role is going to be to coordinate that and push them with all their other competing priorities.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, this is so interesting. It's a much more holistic approach than we've seen even than during the Obama years. Can you give us an example of how this is going to work?

LUDDEN: Yes. So for example, Housing and Urban Development - they can make a lot of buildings more energy-efficient. Transportation can do a lot to push for public transit and electric vehicles. Agriculture can promote farming practices that, you know, for example, lock carbon in the soil. And all those things hit major sources of carbon emissions.

Also, Treasury Department - Biden's pick to lead it, Janet Yellen, by the way, has said she supports a carbon tax to shift the economy away from fossil fuels, although that would require Congress. But environmental groups would like to see the U.S. require companies to disclose the risks they face from climate change. And then if you focus on that risk, you could discourage financing for fossil fuel projects. That is something that could certainly face pushback.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. You mentioned a word there - Congress. Biden's climate plan is ambitious, but he will face a closely divided Congress at best. How much is possible, though, through executive action alone?

LUDDEN: It's a good question. And, you know, even short of climate legislation, he is not likely to get the $2 trillion he wants for infrastructure and clean energy. But he might get some, especially if there's more stimulus funding. And, you know, wind and solar are popular in red states, too. Before her pick, Gina McCarthy told NPR, you don't even have to talk about it as a climate thing.


GINA MCCARTHY: People want jobs. People want fairness. People want to be healthy. And I think the more we can show the value of clean energy even in your pocketbooks, then people will be much less afraid to recognize that climate change is happening.

LUDDEN: And unlike a lot of executive action, this is something a future president couldn't reverse. You know, former Obama climate adviser John Podesta told me when you build 30 gigawatts of offshore wind, that's not going anywhere.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Jennifer Ludden.

Thank you very much.

LUDDEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.