Biden’s Cabinet Picks So Far Mark a New Chapter for U.S. Climate Action
Biden's Cabinet so far sets records and shows how he will be prioritizing climate issues during his administration.
With inauguration day inching closer and closer, President-elect Joe Biden is rounding out his Cabinet picks. Biden’s Cabinet so far is filled with more climate-focused positions than ever, giving Americans hope that the Biden-Harris administration will stay true to its climate goals.
The group will make history in several ways — it features the first Native American Cabinet member, the first Black man to serve as EPA administrator, and the first openly gay Cabinet member to be confirmed by the Senate.
Read on to find out who Biden has tapped for key environmental roles — plus fast facts about each pick — such as Secretary of the Interior, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, and Secretary of Energy. We'll continue updating this article as more appointments are announced.
Michael Regan as EPA Administrator
As of Dec. 17, Biden plans to nominate Michael Regan as EPA Administrator, according to NPR. The position manages the Environmental Protection Agency, an agency that is supposed to protect the environment, human health, public health infrastructure, and more.
Should the Senate confirm Regan, he will be the first Black man to hold the coveted governmental role, at just 44 years old. (Lisa Jackson was the first Black woman to hold the role, during the first half of Obama’s administration). Regan worked for the EPA during Bill Clinton’s time in the White House, working in the EPA’s air office, as per Politico.
Regan also worked at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) from 2008 until 2016, where he led work to expand clean energy programs, modernize the grid in Ohio and New York, and build the Southeast’s first utility lead energy efficiency program. Since leaving the EDF, he has served the state of North Carolina as the Secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality.
Rep. Deb Haaland as Secretary of the Interior
On Dec. 17, news broke that Joe Biden plans to nominate Rep. Deb Haaland as the Secretary of the Interior, a position that conserves federal lands, manages the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and more. If her nomination is approved, Rep. Deb Haaland will be the first Native American to serve in a presidential Cabinet in the country’s history.
Haaland is a Congresswoman from New Mexico and a member of the Laguna Pueblo Native American people. Her triumph in the 2018 midterm election was history-making, as she and Rep. Sharice Davids became the first two Native American women to be voted into Congress.
Throughout the Trump administration, the Department of the Interior has opened endless federal lands up to drilling and mining. Biden made a campaign promise to end oil and gas leasing on federal lands, as per The Los Angeles Times, and as Biden’s Interior Secretary, Haaland will have a key hand in making that happen.
The U.S. was built on colonists unjustly stealing land from Native Americans, and finally putting a Native American lawmaker in the highest land management office in the nation is an important move.
Secretary John Kerry as Special Presidential Envoy for Climate
On Nov. 23, Biden revealed that former Secretary of State John Kerry will be his Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, a new position. The exact nature of the role is still unclear, but it will be the “first cabinet-level climate position, and the first time climate change has had a seat at the table on the National Security Council,” Biden told supporters in an email upon Kerry’s appointment.
“The climate crisis demands nothing less than all hands on deck,” Kerry tweeted, following the announcement. Kerry has a strong track record on climate issues: he founded World War Zero, he signed the Paris Agreement for the U.S., and he has been working to accelerate climate action since 1992. He also served as Secretary of State during the latter four years of Obama and Biden’s administration, so Kerry and Biden are familiar with each other.
Gina McCarthy as White House Climate Coordinator
On Dec. 15, reports surfaced that Biden plans to appoint Gina McCarthy as a White House Climate Coordinator, aka his senior climate change adviser.
McCarthy is currently the Chief Executive Officer of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and she actually previously held the role of EPA Administrator, during the latter half of the Obama administration.
Additionally, McCarthy previously served as the Assistant Administrator for the U.S. EPA Office of Air and Radiation, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, and she even advised Mitt Romney on climate issues, as well as four other Massachusetts governors.
Ali Zaidi as Deputy White House Climate Coordinator
Ali Zaidi will reportedly serve as McCarthy’s No. 2, in a new role called the Deputy White House Climate Coordinator. He’s a natural choice for the role, as he helped work on Biden’s climate plan, as per The New York Times.
Zaidi already has experience working for Biden, as he held the role of White House Office of Management and Budget’s associate director for natural resources, energy, and science during the Obama administration, according to E&E News.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm as Secretary of Energy
Biden plans to nominate former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm as Secretary of Energy, according to Politico, as of Dec. 15. The Department of Energy is responsible for addressing energy and environmental issues across the nation, as well as managing the U.S.’s nuclear weapons complex.
Climate groups praised Granholm’s appointment, as the former Michigan governor does not have any ties to fossil fuel industries — unlike current Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette, who formerly worked as an executive for both Ford Motor Company and USAA. In contrast, Granholm is a huge advocate for the transition to electric vehicles and she has some connections in that industry. This could certainly come in handy as she works to transition the U.S. auto industry from fossil fuel-dependency to electric and renewable power.
“We ought to be doing everything we possibly can to keep fossil fuel energy in the ground and developing the renewable side,” Granholm said in 2016, according to EcoWatch.
Gov. Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture
On Dec. 9, rumors broke that Biden plans to appoint Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture, a position that leads the USDA on matters including conservation, natural resources, and public policy. Biden kept this choice a very safe one: Vilsack served as Secretary of Agriculture for all eight years of the Obama-Biden administration. Yawn. He pulled a few unexpected moves during his tenure in the White House in relation to GMO crops, which earned him the nickname “Mr. Monsanto,” as per In These Times.
Vilsack also has worrisome ties to the animal agriculture industry — under his rule, the USDA proposed a rule that would have sped up slaughterhouse production lines, putting workers, chickens, and consumers all at higher risks for injury, greater suffering, or illness, respectively.
Vilsack worked as Iowa’s Governor from 1999 to 2007, and currently serves as the President and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, where he works alongside major dairy groups, which could potentially be a conflict of interest. At a time when the U.S. majorly needs to prioritize reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it makes no sense to put someone who promotes dairy farming — a major emissions source — in charge of the entire country’s agriculture system.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg as Secretary of Transportation
Former mayor of South Bend, Ind., Pete Buttigieg has been officially named as Biden’s Secretary of Transportation nominee, as of Dec. 16. If confirmed, Buttigieg will have a key role in helping achieve Biden’s goals in relation to transportation and emissions, such as achieving nationwide carbon neutrality by 2050. Should Buttigieg be confirmed, he will make history as the first openly gay Cabinet member confirmed by the Senate.
The Department of Transportation is responsible for evolving the U.S.’s transportation system, part of which involves regulating vehicle emissions. According to the EPA, burning fossil fuels for transportation is the No. 1 cause of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. — so Buttigieg has an almighty opportunity to accelerate a federal transition away from fossil fuel-powered vehicles and toward electric ones.
Brenda Mallory as Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality
On Dec. 17, Biden officially nominated lawyer Brenda Mallory as Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, an agency that creates national policies to improve environmental quality and meet the U.S.’s environmental goals. If confirmed, Mallory would become the first African American to chair the CEQ.
Mallory previously served in the Obama-Biden administration as a lawyer for the EPA, where she helped get around 20 national monuments designated, which she did with the input and partnership of five Native American tribes, as per NPR.
The renowned environmental lawyer has also worked under Republican presidents, according to The New York Times, suggesting that she might use her connections on both sides of the aisle to bring GOP lawmakers to the left on environmental issues.
Currently, Mallory serves as the Director of Regulatory Policy at the Southern Environmental Law Center, and recently co-led the Climate 21 Project, a group of 150 experts who shared advice with the Biden team on how to best tackle the climate crisis. As NPR noted, the Climate 21 Project asserts that Biden should let the CEQ tackle environmental justice issues and lead the way on climate change resilience.
Janet McCabe Nominated as EPA Deputy Administrator
On Jan. 15, Biden nominated Harvard alum Janet McCabe as EPA Deputy Administrator, meaning she'll report to EPA Administrator Michael Regan. McCabe is familiar with the department, as she worked for the Obama-Biden's EPA in the Office of Air and Radiation — from 2009 to 2013 she served as the Principal Deputy to the Assistant Administrator, and from 2013 to 2017 she was the Acting Assistant Administrator. While working for the EPA, McCabe helped create the Clean Power Plan, among other projects that addressed air quality, public health, and the climate crisis.
Currently, McCabe is the director of the Environmental Resilience Institute at Indiana University, and a professor of practice at the university's McKinney School of Law.