President-elect Joe Biden is facing pressure from dueling factions as he gets close to naming people to carry out his environmental policies: traditionalists who are pushing experienced hands and activists eager for fresh thinking.
Progressives have mounted a furious campaign to steer Biden away from nominating traditionalists such as California regulator Mary Nichols to head theEnvironmental Protection Agency. They are urging newer leaders focused on environmental justice such as Collin O’Mara, head of theNational Wildlife Federation, and Heather McTeer Toney, a former regional EPA administrator who now directs field work for the grassroots group Mom’s Clean Air Force.
50,820 Million metric tons of greenhouse emissions, most recent annual data +0.85° C Oct. 2020 increase in global temperature vs. 1900s average
$69.9B Renewable power investment worldwide in Q2 2020 23% Carbon-free net power in Germany, most recent data 0 6 5 4 3 2 0 3 2 1 0 9 0 6 5 4 3 2 .0 8 7 6 5 4 0 4 3 2 1 0 0 1 0 9 8 7 0 5 4 3 2 1 0 5 4 3 2 1 0 6 5 4 3 2 Parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere
Bishkek, KyrgyzstanMost polluted air today, in sensor range 0 3 2 1 0 9 0 6 5 4 3 2 0 3 2 1 0 9 Soccer pitches of forest lost this hour, most recent data -11.58% Today’s arctic ice area vs. historic average
The tension goes beyond the EPA too, as Biden prepares to nominate people in the coming days for top jobs at theWhite House Council on Environmental Quality, which coordinates policy across the federal government, and the departments of Interior and Energy.
“There is a lot of pressure that Biden is getting from corporate Democrats to go with a repeat of Obama, but that isn’t going to cut it in 2021,” said Karen Orenstein, director of the climate and energy program at the progressive environmental group Friends of the Earth. “He talked a decent game during the campaign about environmental justice and climate change, but so far his picks are not inspiring us.”
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Nichols, chairwoman of theCalifornia Air Resources Board, emerged as an early favorite for EPA. Her forceful advocacy for tougher auto emissions rules made her a nemesis of President Donald Trump.
But Nichols has been dogged by criticism that she didn’t do enough to root out racism within her agency. And transition officials have been concerned about a confirmation fight withSenate Republicans who have chafed at her role driving clean air rules in California that set a model for the U.S.
That’s raised the prospects for O’Mara, a former Delaware environmental regulator. As leader of the National Wildlife Federation, O’Mara hired social justice activist Mustafa Santiago Ali and convenedroundtable conversations this year with more than 124 frontline community leaders, elected officials and other stakeholders to examine how the coronavirus pandemic was worsening conditions for vulnerable communities that already bear the brunt of pollution.
Biden has promised to fight environmental inequities, and the California Environmental Justice Alliance has implored him to select an EPA administrator that has experience on the issue, after activistsbluntly declared Nichols did not fit the bill.
More than 70 environmental groupsoutlined an array of complaints against Nichols, arguing she hasn’t done enough to address the disproportionate burden of pollution on vulnerable communities.
Nichols, who is retiring from the California post, didn’t respond to a request for comment left at CARB.
Representatives of the Biden transition team didn’t respond to questions about candidates for the climate jobs.
Biden faces a another confrontation picking the next secretary of the Interior Department, where conflict has emerged between those who support retiring New Mexico Senator Tom Udall, a friend of Biden who haschampioned conservation, and others who are urging a Native American run the agency that oversees theBureau of Indian Affairs.
Tribal leaders havelobbied on behalf of Democratic Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico, a citizen of the Laguna Pueblo. Michael Connor, an enrolled member of the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico who served as the department’s second-highest-ranking official under former President Barack Obama, has also won support.
The conflict is also spilling over into other transition team deliberations about whether to create a domestic climate council of advisers envisioned as working in tandem with John Kerry, Biden’s newly named special presidential envoy for climate.
Progressive groups had been urging the Biden team to create a formal council within the White House to coordinate the government’s domestic response to climate change while Kerry focuses on international policies, but the idea appears to have waned recently amid questions about how to divvy up the responsibility, according to two people familiar with the matter.
However, the issue is still being actively discussed and Biden is expected to at least name a domestic climate adviser within the executive branch.
Leading contenders to run the White House Council on Environmental Quality include three longtime activists: Ali, a 24-year veteran of the EPA now at the National Wildlife Federation; Cecilia Martinez, the co-founder of a group advocating equitable environmental policies; and Brenda Mallory, a former CEQ general counsel who now directs regulatory policy at theSouthern Environmental Law Center.
All are people of color. Biden has promised a diverse cabinet.
For energy secretary, the Biden team is said to deliberating between Arun Majumdar, a formerGoogle executive, and Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, a former adviser with a deep background in nuclear weapons.
Majumdar, who formerly led the Energy Department division responsible for funding experimental energy projects, is seen as able to hit the ground running in a quest to reorient the agency to battle climate change. Sherwood-Randall, a former deputy energy secretary, is seen as a major asset in the department’s work maintaining the nation’s nuclear arms stockpile as well as cleaning up from previous arms development.
Progressives have mounted an effort to vehemently oppose another candidate for the position, former Obama Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, over concerns about his connections to the fossil fuel industry and “all-of-the-above” approach to energy policy.
— With assistance by Jennifer Epstein
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