Special Report: Looking Forward to the Biden Administration

Updated: Jan 23

Joe Biden has emerged at a moment when the nation is most vulnerable, whether it is to attacks, economic decline, or climate change. Proposing a new climate plan and nominating the most diverse cabinet in history are only some of the reforms we are to expect. Kids Fight Climate Change has analyzed the 46th President of the United States.

Above: Joe Biden. IMG Credit: AP Photo/Patrick Semansky. Source: Sam Bloch (The Counter)

Joe Biden has campaigned on climate change for the past year. He is already making good on his promises.


Contents:

1. Climate Cabinet

a. John Kerry: Climate Envoy

b. Gina McCarthy: White House National Climate Advisor

c. Michael Regan: Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency

d. Jennifer Granholm: Secretary of Energy

e. Lloyd Austin: Secretary of Defense

f. Marcia Fudge: Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

g. Tom Vilsack: Secretary of Agriculture

h. Janet Yellen: Secretary of the Treasury

i. Antony Blinken: Secretary of State

j. Pete Buttigieg: Secretary of Transportation

2. Plans for the Future: Bipartisan Endeavors

3. Conclusion: Our Take

4. Sources


Climate Cabinet

President Biden's Cabinet nominees are not only the most diverse in the nation's history, but they create a strong climate team, particularly as Biden creates more cabinet-level positions centered directly around the climate. Here, Kids Fight Climate Change has compiled some of Biden's Cabinet-level nominees.


John Kerry: Climate Envoy

John Kerry was one of Biden's first choices for his cabinet. Kerry was the Secretary of State under President Obama from 2013 to 2017, serving as a key architect for the Paris Climate Agreement, which he signed on behalf of the United States in 2016. His role is new, defined by the Biden transition team as "fight[ing] climate change full-time." In 2019, he launched World War Zero, a coalition of world leaders and celebrities to call for net-zero emissions and widespread climate action. Upon the news of his nomination, he tweeted:

"America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is."

Kerry will sit on the National Security Council serving under the Secretary of State, which many experts say is a critical role on the NSC, particularly as our military is affected by climate change, with recent statistics showing that storms cost $9 billion in damages to just three military bases. The NSC is also responsible for foreign and domestic disruption, all of which climate change will cause. This disruption includes agriculture and water supply, climate refugees, economic insecurities, and war, among others. Andrew Holland, chief operating officer at the American Security Project, a Washington-based think tank, said,

“The truth is there is no international system for dealing with the refugee climate crisis. These people do not get afforded the legally protected status of refugees."

This new position on the NSC is also a crucial point in foreign policy, showing the world how the US is committed to climate solutions, particularly after the Trump Administration's climate denialism and stymieing of climate science. There is also hope that Kerry will work to strengthen the Paris Climate Agreement, which Biden has already started to restore.


Gina McCarthy: White House National Climate Advisor

Gina McCarthy will follow a similar role as John Kerry, though she will focus on the domestic front. McCarthy served as Former President Obama's Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), overseeing the first national standards for emission reduction. However, since, the Trump Administration has revoked these rules. A critical part of McCarthy's role will be to restore and to add on to Obama-era policies that Trump destroyed. She will do this task as the head of the newly-formed White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy as part of a Biden Administration plan to treat climate change as a "systemic issue," according to McCarthy, rather than "something uniquely given to EPA or the Department of the Interior." Furthermore, McCarthy will manage domestic climate politics, particularly managing the divide between even climate activists, as many different organizations and advocates have different hopes and goals for our future.


Michael Regan: Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency

Michael Regan will be the first Black person to serve as the head of the EPA, a monumental step, particularly because environmental racism is such an important part of climate change. This appointment signals Biden's willingness to consider the environmental racism implications each of their policies have. Regan has served as the top North Carolinian environmental official since 2017, where he has appealed to members of both parties while achieving great successes, such as the largest coal cleanup of the century, as well as stopping chemical company Chemours from contaminating the Cape Fear River. Furthermore, Regan's strong history of environmental advocacy, including serving as the Environmental Defense Fund's vice president for clean energy, much different than Trump's heads of the EPA, Andrew Wheeler, and, before him, Scott Pruitt. Indeed, Regan will do much of the work with Biden's climate plan, particularly as Congress is in a partisan deadlock, with a 50-50 split in the Senate and a slim Democratic majority in the House.


Jennifer Granholm: Secretary of Energy

Former Governor Jennifer Granholm was somewhat of a controversial pick for Secretary of Energy. Serving as the governor of Michigan from 2003 to 2011, she spearheaded energy efficiency standards for Michigan, such as a 2008 law requiring more electricity to come from renewable sources. She will work to regulate companies and ensure emissions standards are set and met. However, Granholm also served on the Dow Chemical board for a short time after her term as governor and accepted money from their political action committee. Dow Chemical was under scrutiny for a long time and was finally fined $77 million in 2019 for releasing hazardous chemicals. Granholm has also had a poor record when it comes to granting subsidies to green companies; while her intent was good, her execution often failed, with her choice of companies resulting in only 2.3% of them having an increased output.


Lloyd Austin: Secretary of Defense

Retired General Lloyd Austin is also a controversial pick for Secretary of Defense. Some critics say that his choice was based on his personal relationship with Biden. However, Biden contends that he is the right person for the job based on his military record, which is unwaveringly excellent and historical. Gen. Austin has also seen the effects of war firsthand, unlike other candidates, and will undoubtedly work to improve diversity in the historically discriminatory military. Yet, he has worked little on nontraditional issues such as climate change and COVID-19, although Biden says that his tactical experience in Iraq will be an important and useful role.


Marcia Fudge: Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

Most expected Representative Marcia Fudge to be picked as the Secretary of Agriculture, though Biden passed her up for Tom Vilsack. Rep. Fudge has spearheaded climate initiatives, particularly those to do with farmers and wider agriculture agendas. She has also granted environmental funding in multiple different bills and worked towards habitat and animal conservation.


Tom Vilsack: Secretary of Agriculture

Tom Vilsack was the unexpected choice for Secretary of Agriculture, most expecting Marcia Fudge as Biden's pick, though he was the Secretary of Agriculture under former President Obama. Vilsack is a disappointing pick for environmental advocates, as he has had a comfortable history with large polluters, largely ignoring addressing climate change. He also failed to enact substantial regulations against farm systems in his eight years working for President Obama. However, Vilsack will be instrumental in undoing Trump's Secretary of Agriculture (Sonny Perdue)'s disastrous policies.


Janet Yellen: Secretary of the Treasury

As the person who manages tax, regulatory, and budget policies, the Secretary of the Treasury is an important pick for climate change. Janet Yellen has definitely comforted environmental advocates. As Treasury Secretary, she will be responsible for managing climate risk estimates for businesses and banks, as well as tax credits and other subsidies. Yellen has seen climate change as an economic risk for decades, particularly when she served as an economic advisor under President George W. Bush. She has also expressed recent support for carbon taxes. Advocates are hopeful that she can use her role to regulate the fossil fuel industry. More specifically, she should support clean energy finance while giving federal oversight more power to police loans and investments related to the fossil fuel industry, as well as investment in climate solutions and a clean economic recovery.


Antony Blinken: Secretary of State

Antony Blinken has already called for the United States to be a world leader in climate action, and he said that can only be achieved by setting a strong example and exceeding expectations. He has said that he wants net-zero emissions and a 100% clean economy by at most 2050 and wants to make sure that world climate commitments are enforceable, transparent, and unwavering. In short, Blinken says:

"[C]limate change would be fully integrated into our foreign policy and national security strategies, as well as our approach to trade. But you've got to bring the domestic and the international piece together if you're going to succeed."

Pete Buttigieg: Secretary of Transportation

Pete Buttigieg will redefine the role of the Department of Transportation, putting a new green focus on Transportation as President Biden pledges vehicular reform, particularly as the transportation sector is the leading U.S. cause of climate change. Similarly, Buttigieg will be in charge of building new, more efficient, infrastructure that can withstand the effects of climate change. John D. Podesta, Obama advisor on climate change, argues that Buttigieg will be able to understand and tackle the climate emergency.



Plans for the Future: Bipartisan Endeavors

Beyond President Biden's extensively climate-focus Cabinet, his climate plan bodes well for the climate, as discussed in a previous Climate News article. However, there is still a great divide between activists that Biden hopes to address. While at first Biden's plans did not resonate well with more progressive activists, such as Varshini Prakash of the Sunrise Movement (who criticized Biden during the campaign), now the Biden Administration has taken a more progressive turn. In Biden's climate task force, he included Prakash along with more moderate Democrats that still clung on to natural gas to bridge the divide between them. Furthermore, John Kerry hopes to work with energy companies instead of against them. While progressive groups like Sunrise argue that energy companies worsened climate change, Kerry says that he is working with them to secure a transition to clean energy.



Conclusion: Our Take

In President Biden's inaugural address, he preached for unity rather than more division. This unity can be both between Democrats and Republicans, as well as within the fractured Democratic Party and disparate climate advocates all scrambling to get their voices heard. Biden's goal is to set up a national climate program that tackles the problem holistically without ostracizing opposing views. John Kerry's partnerships with energy companies and Biden's politically diverse climate task force are evidence of that.


The Biden Administration is exactly what our country needs right now for the climate. While it is wonderful to fantasize about a swift liberal transition to a 100% clean energy economy, the politicization of climate change has blocked that from occurring right now. Instead, we need to focus on a bipartisan shift towards climate action, which Joe Biden is helping us achieve.



Sources

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Beitsch, Rebecca. “Kerry Raises Hopes for Focus on Climate Security at NSC.” TheHill. News Communications, Inc., January 5, 2021. https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/532628-kerry-raises-hopes-for-focus-on-climate-security-at-nsc.


Bender, Bryan, and Lara Seligman. “Questions Swirl over Austin's Limited Experience.” Politico, December 9, 2020. https://www.politico.com/news/2020/12/09/lloyd-austin-experience-record-443818.


Bennett, Geoff, and John Kerry. John Kerry: Paris Agreement 'absolutely' needs to be stronger. Other. NBC News, December 9, 2020. https://www.msnbc.com/mtp-daily/watch/john-kerry-paris-agreement-absolutely-needs-to-be-stronger-97415237835.


“Biden Cabinet: John Kerry Named Climate Envoy as Inner Circle Get Key Posts.” BBC News. BBC, November 24, 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/election-us-2020-55046714.


Biden, Joe. “Why I Chose Lloyd Austin as Secretary of Defense.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, December 8, 2020. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/12/secretary-defense/617330/.


Bowman, Tom. “Lloyd Austin: A Man 'Of The Highest Integrity,' But Still Unknown To Many.” NPR, December 8, 2020. https://www.npr.org/2020/12/08/944321280/lloyd-austin-a-man-of-the-highest-integrity-but-still-unknown-to-many.


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Epstein, Reid J., and Coral Davenport. “Biden Taps Pete Buttigieg for Transportation Secretary.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, January 21, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/15/us/politics/pete-buttigieg-biden-transportation-secretary.html.


Friedman, Lisa. “Michael Regan, Biden's E.P.A. Pick, Faces 'Massive Reconstruction and Rebuilding'.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, January 19, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/17/climate/michael-regan-epa.html.


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Grandoni, Dino. “Analysis | The Energy 202: What the Janet Yellen Pick for Treasury Means for Climate Policy.” The Washington Post. WP Company, November 25, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/11/25/energy-202-what-janet-yellen-pick-treasury-means-climate-policy/.


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Schwartz, Brian. “Biden Energy Secretary Pick Jennifer Granholm Has Past Ties to Utilities, Chemical Companies.” CNBC, December 17, 2020. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/12/17/biden-energy-secretary-pick-jennifer-granholm-has-past-ties-to-utilities-chemical-companies.html.


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Skorup, Jarrett. “Jennifer Granholm's Energy Record in Michigan Should Frighten America.” USA Today. Gannett Satellite Information Network, December 29, 2020. https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2020/12/29/bidens-mistake-jennifer-granholm-bad-pick-lead-energy-department-column/3957137001/.


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