WASHINGTON – President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., eager to elevate climate change across his administration, is already drafting orders to reduce pollution from global warming and is looking for candidates who will bring climate policy into not only environmental agencies, but in the transport treasury.
Leading candidates for high-level cabinet posts, such as Michèle Flournoy for Defense Secretary and Lael Brainard for Treasury, have long supported aggressive policies to tackle climate change. Mr Biden’s inner circle regularly asks, “Is the person climate ambitious?” even candidates for low-profile positions like the White House budget and regulatory offices, according to a person advising the transition.
Members of the transition team have been instructed to identify policies that can improve pollution levels in black and Latin American communities. And one of Mr. Biden’s first executive orders is expected to require every federal agency, department and program to prepare to tackle climate change.
“We need to re-establish US leadership globally on climate change, and re-establishing global leadership is going to require getting our house in order nationally,” said Ernest Moniz, former energy secretary and campaign advisor to Mr. Biden.
Interviews with more than two dozen advisers and members of Mr Biden’s transition team reveal a new administration keenly aware of the challenges ahead, with a tightly divided Congress and the outsized expectations some voters have for action on climate change after four years of regulatory reversals. and presidential hostility.
“There is no doubt that Covid is the timing issue that needs to be addressed right out of the box,” Mr Moniz said. “But we’ll also see the climate addressed from the start.”
Republicans insist they want bipartisan climate legislation, not a return to executive action, but their visions of capturing carbon from coal-fired power plants and developing nuclear power don’t match. not on Mr Biden’s promise to phase out fossil-fueled electricity and switch to solar, wind and other renewable fuel sources.
“There are ways to protect our environment without punishing our economy. Free market innovation, not government taxes or tough regulations, is the best way to deal with climate change, ”said Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, who is expected to lead the Senate Energy Committee. .
Members of the transition team appointed to coordinate the transfer of power from the Trump administration include dozens of climate change experts – including in agencies not at the forefront of environmental policy, such as government departments of Justice, Agriculture and Defense.
The president-elect has raised climate change in all congratulatory calls he has taken with foreign leaders, as well as with Pope Francis. The advisers said he plans to make climate change an explicit priority of every regional State Department office. He’s also considering Mr. Moniz; John Kerry, the former Secretary of State; or Tom Steyer, the billionaire climate activist; for a new post of international climate envoy.
“It‘s not going to happen in just one or two agencies,” said Senator Tom Udall, Democrat of New Mexico, who is on Mr. Biden’s list as head of the Home Department. “It will be a comprehensive government approach.”
Tim Profeta, professor at Duke University and former Senate assistant on climate policy, said in past transitions such planning has been effective. George W. Bush’s transition created an energy task force focused on fossil fuels. Obama’s transition focus on economic stimulus helped pass a $ 787 billion relief measure in the administration’s first month.
“This is the opportunity that is here,” said Profeta, who was co-author of a recent plan on how a Biden White House could bolster climate expertise in cabinet agencies.
Biden’s team is considering creating a new, separate White House office dedicated to climate change or a coordinating council inspired by national security and economic councils. Three people close to the new administration said Biden’s team should bring in Ali Zaidi, a former Obama White House climate adviser who now serves as New State’s deputy energy secretary. York, in a prominent position advising the President and coordinating the work. among agencies.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Biden’s transition declined to comment on staff.
“The most important thing they need to do is start making key appointments to all the agencies involved,” said John Holdren, a former Obama science adviser who worked closely with the Biden campaign.
Mr Holdren said one of Mr Biden’s first executive orders would reignite an Obama-era mandate that every government agency made climate change part of its policies.
The Environmental Protection Agency will always be the new president’s most powerful weapon in his drive to restore and strengthen climate change regulations.
The presidential transition
After four years in which Mr. Trump quashed all major climate change rules and weakened the EPA, the agency Mr. Biden-led is expected to grow in size and authority, with his new administrator taking the lead rules aimed at limiting greenhouse gases. .
Mr. Biden’s top candidate for the agency is Mary D. Nichols, California’s climate and clean air regulator, according to at least four people familiar with the matter. She said in an interview that she would eagerly take the job.
Ms Nichols has become a celebrity in global warming politics as the architect of her state’s climate change law and its strict regulations on car emissions that cause global warming. These California rules served as a model for Mr. Obama’s federal climate policies, before being overturned by Mr. Trump.
“It’s going to be important to quickly undo and stop a huge number of actions that have been taken by the Trump administration, and then restore the agency’s scientific base for its work,” Ms. Nichols said.
Mr Biden’s transition advisers also say they see a new climate role for the transportation department, which is expected to partner with the EPA to write tough new rules on auto pollution and fuel efficiency, while promoting electric and hybrid vehicles. Los Angeles Mayor Eric M. Garcetti, who presented a plan last year to transition his city to all-electric vehicles by 2050, is among the top candidates for the job.
The Pentagon is also likely to have a much larger climate change portfolio.
Ms Flournoy, the leading candidate for Secretary of Defense, was the Obama administration’s Under-Secretary of Defense and has often referred to climate change as a threat to national security. In an opinion piece for CNN last month, Ms. Flournoy wrote that the Pentagon should be a key player in climate change, both because of the role that global warming plays in driving conflicts around the world and because that the Defense Ministry could help accelerate research and development for cleaner technologies, as it has done for jet engines and telecommunications.
Mr Biden’s Pentagon transition team includes Sharon A. Burke, who, as deputy defense secretary for operational energy, has been pushing to reduce the military’s reliance on fossil fuels.
“We’ve lost a generation of leadership in the career ranks, and we’ve never had political leadership. These two elements need to be rebuilt in all parts of the Department of Defense, ”said Sherri Goodman, who served as the Pentagon’s first Assistant Deputy Secretary of Defense for Environmental Security under President Bill Clinton and was an adviser to national climate security to the Biden Campaign.
As the Biden administration moves forward with regulations that will most likely end up in the Supreme Court, the Justice Department will have to defend and preserve the rules. To this end, the Department of Justice’s transition team includes Richard J. Lazarus of Harvard Law School, a leading expert in climate change litigation.
Among the candidates for the post of attorney general is Xavier Becerra, the attorney general of California, who has led more than 50 lawsuits against Mr. Trump’s environmental setbacks. In an interview in September, Mr. Becerra predicted of Mr. Trump: “I don’t think a lot of what he did will stay, because a lot of what he did didn’t has not taken root legally. I believe that his legacy will be very short and that his term will be considered the nadir of environmental policy in the history of this country.
“A Biden administration would come in and take a fresh look at all these environmental lawsuits,” Becerra said. “In some cases, you can drop the trial. In some cases, you may not be able to do this – you need to understand the rules. “
The Biden administration can also use financial regulation to impose climate-related rules on Wall Street. Ms Brainard, the candidate for Treasury Secretary, who is currently a member of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, has been noted for her speeches and statements on climate risks to the financial system. This month, the Fed assessed the risks of climate change in detail in a financial stability report, a first for the semi-annual document. “Climate change poses significant risks to financial stability,” she wrote, and addressing these concerns “is vitally important”.
Financial regulators in a Biden administration will likely use a recent report commissioned by the Commodities Futures Trading Commission on the risks of climate change to the financial system as a roadmap. Among the main recommendations of the report is a new rule requiring companies to disclose their financial risks related to climate change to shareholders.