If Joe Biden and Kamala Harris win the election in November, they won’t be the only new leaders in the White House come January. Biden will also get to appoint a Cabinet — and that Cabinet will advise the president on various important issues, including energy, environmental protection, and climate change.
With the election rounding the corner, many are wondering: Who will Biden appoint as EPA Administrator and to the rest of his Cabinet?
And could his Cabinet include any of his former presidential challengers, such as fan-favorite candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren? (He did appoint a former challenger as his VP, so anything’s possible.)
The current EPA Administrator, appointed by Trump, is Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist who even lobbied against environmental policies set by the Obama administration. Trump’s EPA has rolled back dozens of environmental protections over the past four years — and if Biden is elected, he could appoint an EPA Administrator who will undo some of the environmentally-devastating work of the Trump EPA.
Who will Biden appoint as EPA Administrator?
The Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency is in charge of the U.S. EPA, a federal agency responsible for upholding federal environmental protections, managing cleanup of contaminated land, making sure all Americans have access to information about human health risks posed by environmental issues, ensuring Americans have clean air, water, and land, and so much more.
Here are a few possible replacements for Wheeler, should Biden take office in the new year.
E&E News believes that Tom Carper, a U.S. Senator and former governor of Delaware, is a front-runner for the position of EPA Administrator. Carper has been friends with Biden for nearly 50 years, and they served in the Senate together, both from Delaware. Carper is a ranking member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and he helped lead the Democratic Senators in questioning Trump’s EPA nominees.
Carper has also directly spoken about the topic of Biden’s potential EPA Administrator picks, emphasizing that the role should go to someone who will prioritize environmental justice. “We need an administration, particularly [an] EPA, where we have a leadership who understands the importance of environmental justice,” he said, as reported by E&E News.
Some people have mentioned Gov. Jay Inslee as a potential EPA Administrator in Biden’s Cabinet, since he put climate at the center of his platform when campaigning for president. (He dropped out of the race in August 2019).
However, Inslee has made it clear that he’s not the person for the job. When asked if he would accept a position in Biden’s cabinet if he were offered one, he replied: “No, I’m running for governor. I love the state of Washington,” according to Axios.
Some believe Inslee would be a good candidate for Secretary of Energy as well.
Mary D. Nichols
In 2008, The New York Times predicted that Obama might appoint Mary D. Nichols as the EPA Administrator. Nichols has a history of fighting against climate injustice, she is currently Chair of the California Air Resources Board, and she previously served as an Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, as well as a senior staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
When asked if she would accept an offer to become the EPA Administrator, Nichols told E&E News that she had no comment, instead emphasizing the need to focus on ending Trump’s term.
Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey is a sponsor of the Green New Deal, and he even served on the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming for about four years. He constantly uses his platform as a politician to push climate policy, and he would be an unsurprising choice for Biden’s EPA Administrator.
That said, Markey recently won a reelection campaign to retain his Senate seat against Joseph Kennedy III, so who knows if he’d be willing to give that up so soon to serve on Biden’s team.
Biden could add a climate position to his cabinet.
To really double down on fighting the climate crisis, there are rumors that Biden might create a new Cabinet position focused on climate — according to E&E News, he said he plans to create a Cabinet post that "goes beyond [the] EPA."
In May 2020, Biden appointed former Secretary of State John Kerry as a co-chair of his task force against climate change. Kerry recently founded the climate coalition World War Zero, and his experience in the White House would make him an obvious — but kind of safe — choice for Biden’s climate czar.
Alexander Hamilton was just 34 when he served as George Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury — but at 31 years old, the progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez could beat him for youngest Cabinet member in history if Biden selected the U.S. Representative for a climate position on his staff. AOC has only been serving in Washington for less than two years, but her role as sponsor of the Green New Deal is just one reason she’s quickly become a household name amongst climate politicians.
Whether or not Ocasio-Cortez winds up serving on Biden’s team, she feels that progressive U.S. lawmakers will be able to push Biden’s policies further to the left once he’s in office. “I think, overall, we can likely push Vice President Biden in a more progressive direction across policy issues,” she said, as per the NY Post.
Biden may have defeated Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination — but Sanders is still a key political voice in the fight against the climate crisis.
“I hope that these task forces will come together utilizing the best minds and people in your campaign and in my campaign to work out real solutions to these very, very important problems,” Sanders said in April, as per CNN. He was referring to a group of proposed Biden task forces, which would work on topics including climate, the economy, and education.
It’s unclear whether Sanders was alluding to Biden appointing Sanders himself or someone from his staff to the climate task force — but anyone from Sanders’ team would certainly have important insight and the ability to help strengthen Biden’s climate plan.
This article is part of Green Matters’ #VotingMatters, a campaign encouraging our readers to vote in the U.S. election on Nov. 3 to protect our planet and the people on it.