Biden administration begins to identify key environmental leaders

By Laura Bies

Posted on January 5, 2021

 President-elect Biden has nominated Rep. Deb Haaland for Secretary of the Interior. Credit: AFGE

The Biden administration will officially take office on Jan. 20, but it has already announced who it will nominate for key positions. In addition, its transition teams have been meeting with career agency employees to better understand agency operations and challenges.

During an event on Dec. 19, the incoming administration announced a slate of nominees for environment, energy and climate jobs.

Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) will be nominated by president-elect Biden for Secretary of the Interior. If confirmed by the Senate, Halaand would be the first Native American to be a member of the Cabinet. She would be the 54th Interior Secretary and only the third female to serve in that position. Haaland currently serves as the vice chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources.

“As our country faces the impacts of climate change and environmental injustice, the Interior Department has a role to address these challenges,” said Rep. Halland during a Dec. 19 event, Rep. She also said that “we will ensure that the decisions at Interior will once again be driven by science.”

Haaland will form part of a new ‘climate team’ for the administration, which will focus on building U.S. leadership in global efforts to confront climate change.

Other members of the new team include the leaders of the Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, Council on Environmental Quality and White House staff. Gina McCarthy, the current Natural Resources Defense Council president has been selected as Biden’s primary climate adviser and coordinator. McCarthy served as President Obama’s EPA Administrator. Ali Zaidi will serve as the deputy climate advisor in the White House. Brenda Mallory will be the nominee for chairwoman of the Council on Environmental Quality. Mallory would be the first Black person to serve as CEQ chair, and is currently the director of regulatory policy at the Southern Environmental Law Center. She also worked at CEQ during the Obama administration. Mallory’s appointment will require Senate confirmation, while McCarthy and Zaidi’s will not.

Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) will be nominated to be Secretary of Energy and North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality head Michael Regan to be EPA administrator. Regan would be the first Black man in that position. Both those positions will also require Senate confirmation.

President-elect Biden has also nominated former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to serve in that position in the new administration. Vilsack served as the Secretary of Agriculture during the Obama administration.

Once the new administration takes office in January and the Cabinet-level nominees are confirmed, the administration will begin to appoint agency directors and other positions within the departments. The speed of Senate confirmations will likely be influenced by which party has control of the Senate, which will be decided by the Jan. 5 run-off elections in Georgia.

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