We Need Climate Leaders in Biden’s Administration
by Lisa Ramsden
November 20, 2020
Biden must publicly commit to putting racial justice, climate, and equity champions in his Cabinet and Administration and barring all fossil fuel lobbyists, executives, and representatives.
© Tim Aubry / Greenpeace
People turned out in record numbers to give President-elect Joe Biden a mandate to take bold action in service of climate justice, public health, economic recovery, and racial equity.
To follow through with these promises, he needs the right people on his team. As part of the transition process, President-elect Biden must publicly commit to putting racial justice, climate, and equity champions in his Cabinet and Administration and barring all fossil fuel lobbyists, executives, and representatives.
There are many qualified people in this country who could lead us forward into a fossil fuel free future — tell President-elect Biden that there is no room for fossil fuel shills in his administration.
We are urging President-elect Biden’s transition team to fill posts with individuals who understand the urgency of the climate emergency, have experience advocating for environmental justice and clean energy solutions, are committed to advancing Indigenous rights, will fight for worker protections, and reflect the diversity of identities and lived experiences of all people in this country.
Who we don’t want to see in these positions are people with fossil fuel industry interests — it would be like inviting the fox in to guard the hen house. For example, one of the top contenders for Secretary of the Department Of Energy (DOE) is Ernie Moniz — the wrong climate voice for the moment. Moniz serves on the Board of Southern company, a fossil fuel utility, and has promoted natural gas as part of the “solution” to the climate crisis — a wrong talking point which will continue to pump tons and tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. He also served as President Obama’s Energy Secretary, where he engineered an “all of the above” energy strategy that led to the U.S becoming the world’s biggest oil and gas producer, at a time when we need to be rapidly transitioning AWAY from fossil fuels as fast as possible.
President-elect Biden needs to make sure climate is embedded in every department and agency so we can address our crises holistically. We want to highlight some of the most important positions for setting and executing on President-elect Biden’s climate justice agenda, holding polluters accountable, and building a democracy for all workers and communities.
Let’s start with a Climate Council
Tackling the climate crisis requires an all-of-government approach. President-elect Biden needs someone at his side who can manage, coordinate, and drive forward the bold and just actions we need to protect communities on the frontlines of climate disasters. Fortunately, President-elect Biden is considering creating a new office that would focus specifically on climate change. We hope that this happens and we think that Jay Inslee would be a terrific person to lead it. Inslee’s ‘Freedom From Fossil Fuels‘ plan, announced during the Democratic primary, is a laudable blueprint for holding fossil fuel executives accountable while supporting workers and communities in the transition off oil and gas. Inslee brings both the ambition and record on climate we need, plus the political experience to ensure that our government will work as best as it can in service to all people.
Second, The Environmental Protection Agency
A future where everyone will thrive is one with clean air, land, and water for all. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was founded in 1970 to develop and enforce environmental laws that ensure this future will be a reality. It is also a crucial agency for handling the climate crisis because it can implement laws and standards to hold polluters accountable and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The climate crisis will negatively impact Black, Brown, Indigenous, and low-income people the most, so we need someone running the EPA who has a strong commitment to environmental justice.
We would love to see someone like Mustafa Santiago Ali lead the EPA.
Mustafa Santiago Ali is currently the Vice President of environmental justice, climate and community revitalization at the National Wildlife Federation. He is no stranger to the EPA, having previously worked there for more than two decades, focusing on environmental justice. Ali isn’t afraid to call what oil and gas companies are doing to Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities by what it is: environmental racism.
Moving on to The Department of the Interior
Science and justice demand we immediately stop extracting more coal, oil, and gas, and ensure a just and well-managed transition to a future beyond fossil fuels. The Department of the Interior (DOI) is crucial to guiding this necessary and inevitable transition. In addition to managing our National Parks and administering federal programs relating to Indigenous communities, the DOI has the authority to lease public lands for oil, gas, and coal development. Historically — and especially under the previous administration — the DOI has overseen leases and favors for fossil fuel companies at the expense of our communities. We need someone leading the department who will steer it away from fossil fuel exploitation and towards renewable energy development, Indigenous sovereignty, and true environmental protection. We especially need someone who is a strong advocate for Indigenous Rights because the DOI is responsible for the 55 million+ acres of land held in trust for American Indians, Indian Tribes, and Alaskan Natives.
We’d love to see someone like Deb Haaland or Tom Udall, legislators from New Mexico, to lead the Department of the Interior. Both support a Green New Deal and have also publicly supported the Thirty by Thirty Resolution, which calls on the US to protect 30% of our lands and ocean by 2030.
Deb Haaland is one of the first Native American women elected Congress. She is well-versed in many of the realms that the DOI operates, by serving as Chair of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands, and Vice Chair of the Committee on Natural Resources. She is also Co-Chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus. When Indigenous people stood up to the fossil fuel industry in Standing Rock, Haaland joined them. Many Indigenous leaders and environmental groups have signaled their support for Haaland taking on this role.
Tom Udall has been a Senator, a Congressman, and Attorney General of New Mexico. He has written and passed legislation on renewable energy that would focus on jobs and cutting carbon emissions and recently co-authored the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act, which aims to phase out single-use plastics. He served on several Senate committees including Appropriations, Foreign Relations, Commerce, Indian Affairs, and Rules and Administration.
Up next, the Department of Labor
Why does an organization like Greenpeace care about the Department of Labor? Well here’s the good news: big bold policies that are capable of solving the many intersecting crises we currently face can also create millions of good union jobs. But if we don’t get it right, we run the risk of repeating the failed playbook of big corporations, where these jobs reinforce both inequality and exploitation. To chart this new course, we’d like to see someone like Michigan Congressman Andy Levin running the Department of the Labor. Rep. Levin is a coalition builder with a long history in the labor movement, as well as a champion for the environment. He listens to stakeholders and works to find consensus that centers workers and communities.
We also like the buzz about Senator Bernie Sanders. Sanders was the only candidate to earn an A+ in Greenpeace’s 2020 Climate ranking for his plan which included investments that would create millions of family-sustaining, union jobs in a renewable energy economy and provide long-term security for fossil fuel workers with wage insurance, benefit guarantees, and job retraining.
Finally, the Department of Energy
To advance a Green New Deal, we need a rapid transition to 100% clean energy. So from a climate perspective, who leads the Department of Energy (DOE) is extremely important, as they will oversee domestic energy production, as well as energy-related research and energy conservation.
We would love to see someone like Daniel Kammen or Ed Markey serve as Energy Secretary.
Daniel Kammen is a scientist whose track record demonstrates a commitment to helping the US transition away from fossil fuels in an equitable way. He has authored several Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports and has helped to found more than ten renewable energy companies. His most recent role in government was as the Science Envoy for the US State Department, from which he resigned in August 2017, which he publicly stated was due to President Trump’s failure to condemn white supremacists after the violent incidents in Charlottesville, VA.
Ed Markey has been a long-time leader on climate change and energy policy and was the lead Senate co-sponsor for the Green New Deal resolution and the THRIVE Resolution. He is an outspoken proponent of policies to create millions of good-paying jobs while investing in clean energy and moving away from fossil fuels.