In the first week of his presidency, Joe Biden is expected to sign another round of executive orders to tackle climate change as one of the new administration’s top four priorities, along with Covid-19, the economic crisis and racial justice.
A newly assembled team of mainly veterans will be charged with implementing the orders, after Mr Biden set the agenda on his first day in office by taking steps to rejoin the Paris climate accord and cancel the Keystone XL pipeline that would import tar sands oil from Canada.
The overwhelming majority of the new Biden climate team are alumni of Barack Obama’s administration — just like many of the other appointees and cabinet appointees who have joined Mr Biden’s team.
Here are those who will be at the forefront of the policy battle.
John Kerry, special envoy on climate change The 77-year-old former Democratic presidential nominee and secretary of state under Barack Obama returns to the federal government in what is likely to be his swansong. In creating the role of climate change envoy with a seat on the National Security Council, Mr Biden has indicated that he will give Mr Kerry wide latitude in helping steer his ambitious climate agenda using his foreign diplomacy experience. First on Mr Kerry’s agenda will be rejoining the Paris climate accord, followed closely by new initiatives to help the US achieve its goal of net zero emissions by 2050, and reinstating some of the climate policies dismantled during the Trump administration. In his first speech last week, Mr Kerry signalled his approach by issuing a global call to action while acknowledging that the US would have to “move forward with a combination of humility and ambition”. He will work closely with Gina McCarthy, who will be the first White House climate adviser.
Gina McCarthy, national climate adviser The straight-talking Boston native was the Environmental Protection Agency administrator under Barack Obama. Ms McCarthy, 66, will head the newly created White House Office of Climate Policy. She brings not only her experience at the EPA but a background that includes serving as an environmental adviser to five governors, including Mitt Romney when he was the Republican governor of Massachusetts. Prior to her confirmation as EPA administrator, a role she served in from 2013 to 2017, Ms McCarthy showed her steadfast approach as she faced a protracted nomination hearing with multiple Republican lawmakers holding up the vote in an attempt to block her confirmation. In 2015, two dozen Republican House members introduced a resolution to impeach her, that ultimately failed. At the White House, Ms McCarthy is expected to work quickly to reinstitute many of the Obama-era policies she oversaw at the EPA that were dismantled under the Trump administration. These rollbacks, she has said, were “not written well”.
Jennifer Granholm, department of energy The 61-year-old former Democratic governor of Michigan and fixture on cable news has been an advocate for renewable energy since leaving the governor’s office in 2011. During her time as Michigan’s first female governor, Ms Granholm forged a close relationship with the Obama administration and oversaw the rustbelt state’s recovery from the recession and the motor industry bailout in 2009. Since then, Ms Granholm has focused on the intersection of renewable energy and job creation. As part of her newly-released government disclosure forms, Ms Granholm and her husband reported an estimated $1m to $5m worth of stock options in Proterra, an automotive and energy storage company that manufactures electric buses. Ms Granholm currently sits on the company’s board of directors, a position she says she will step down from once confirmed as Mr Biden’s energy secretary.
Ali Zaidi, deputy national climate adviser In his early 30s, Mr Zaidi, comes to the role as Ms McCarthy’s offsider from New York state where he has been serving as Governor Andrew Cuomo’s chairman of climate policy and finance. He previously served in two terms of the Obama administration: in the department of energy, the White House and the office of management and budget working in a variety of climate-related roles, and worked on issues involving energy, agriculture, infrastructure, conservation and technology. His family relocated from Karachi in Pakistan to a small town on the shore of Lake Erie in Pennsylvania when he was aged five. An admiration for George W Bush led him to door-knock for the Republican party until he was inspired by the election of President Obama. Harvard educated, he has had stints practising law as well as in academia.
David Hayes, special assistant to the president for climate policy Mr Hayes, 67, comes to the Biden White House with a background in both the Obama and Clinton administrations, as deputy secretary at the Department of the Interior. He was a policy adviser on the Biden transition team and during the Trump presidency taught at the New York University School of Law and was previously a lecturer at Stanford Law School in California. In his time in Mr Obama’s administration, Mr Hayes focused on the interior department’s renewable energy development plans, particularly the impact of climate change in the Arctic.
Brenda Mallory, White House Council on Environmental Quality An environmental lawyer, Ms Mallory, 64, served as general counsel at the CEQ, which is a division of the office of the President and coordinates federal environmental efforts for major infrastructure projects, including pipelines and highways. Under Barack Obama, she focused her efforts on policies aimed at reducing carbon emissions and pollution as well as protecting public lands and monuments. A veteran of the field, she spent much of her career as a lawyer at the Environmental Protection Agency, and has also worked for the Conservation Litigation Project and the Southern Environmental Law Center. She will be the first black head of the council.
Other key appointments
Sonia Aggarwal, senior adviser for climate policy and innovation Cofounder of Energy Innovation, an energy and climate policy advisory firm.
Cecilia Martinez, senior director for environmental justice, Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Co-founder of the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy, advocating to address racial inequality in environmental policies.
Janet McCabe, deputy administrator, EPA Under the Obama administration led the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation and helped develop the Clean Power Plan.
Maggie Thomas, chief of staff, Office of Domestic Climate Policy. Former climate adviser to Senator Elizabeth Warren and Washington governor Jay Inslee, and co-founder of Evergreen Action, a climate change advocacy group formed by ex-staffers of the 2020 presidential campaign of Governor Inslee.