Viewpoint: Biden unveils dream team for climate change

Karen Rubin
Karen Rubin, Columnist

We just passed the fifth anniversary of the United States leading the world and signing the historic Paris Climate Accord mere weeks since Trump officially pulled the U.S. out of it one day after the election on Nov. 4.

For the first time, a presidential campaign has made the climate crisis a priority alongside the other historic crises facing the incoming Biden administration – public health, economy, racial justice – and assembled a brilliant, qualified and tested team to achieve its goals.

This hasn’t just been a year of historic public health crisis, but historic wildfires, hurricanes, flooding and heatwaves, with proportionate damage to lives and livelihoods. Long after the pandemic, the climate crisis, with ramifications in terms of deaths from flood, fire, famine, drought, and disease as well as migrations of refugees escaping homelands rendered uninhabitable, will be a truly existential crisis.

Meanwhile, Lame Duck Donald is racing the clock to do as much damage as he can before Biden can take back the reins of power: rushing to sell off public lands to oil and mining interests, overturn pollution standards, erase the ability to apply Clean Air and Clean Water regulations and embed his climate destroyers and environmental rapists into government agencies. Rather than show a care for the 320,000 dead and 18 million infected with coronavirus, Trump’s obsession has been to overturn conservation standards on toilets and showerheads.

There could not be a stronger contrast between Trump’s appointees – most who came out of the same special interests they were charged to regulate – and Biden’s, starting with nominating the first Native American (35 generations Pueblo) as secretary of the Interior, the agency which has controlled Indian affairs and broken treaties for 150 years. “As our country faces the impacts of climate change and environmental injustice, the Interior Department has a role to address these challenges,” the appointee, Congresswoman Deb Haaland, said.

It’s not just moving the U.S. back to mitigating climate change and shifting the economic and social underpinnings to a sustainable future, but for the first time, instilling economic justice in policy.

“We are going to ensure that the EPA is once again a strong partner for the states — not a roadblock,” said Biden’s nominee for Environmental Protection administrator, Michael Regan. “We will be driven by our conviction that every person in our great country has the right to clean air, clean water, and a healthier life no matter how much money they have in their pocket, the color of their skin, or what community they live in. We will move with urgency on climate change, protecting our drinking water, and enacting an environmental justice framework that empowers people in all communities.

“But we also know that these challenges can’t be solved by regulation alone. And we know that environmental protection and economic prosperity are not mutually exclusive — they go hand-in-hand. We need an all-hands-on-deck approach from industry to individuals, finding common ground to build back better for workers, for communities, for our economy, and for our planet,” Regan said.

His nominee for secretary of energy, the former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, made it clear that climate action and environmental protection, rather than the “job killers” that the Republicans have charged, are also economic imperatives.

“Today, in the midst of another harrowing crisis, clean energy remains one of the most promising economic growth sectors in the world. Over the next two decades, countries will invest trillions of dollars in electric cars, solar panels, wind turbines, and energy-efficient appliances and buildings. They’ll upgrade their electric grids using smart technology. Millions of good-paying jobs will be created — but where will those jobs be? In China or other countries fighting tooth-and-nail to corner the clean energy market? Or here in America? The path to building back better starts with building and deploying those products here, stamping them Made in America, and exporting them around the world. We can win those jobs for American workers,” Granholm said.

Another appointee warned about the consequences of not addressing climate change.

“I’m here today because climate change isn’t only a threat to the planet — it’s a threat to the health and well-being of people and the precious natural resources we depend on,” declared Gina McCarthy, the former EPA administrator who is being tapped for a new position of White House climate coordinator. “Defeating that threat is the fight of our lifetimes….The president-elect has put together the strongest climate plan ever raised to this level of leadership.”

Biden made clear what his priorities will be:

“The United States will rejoin the Paris Agreement on day one of my presidency” Biden said. “The Biden-Harris administration will increase the ambition of our domestic climate target and put the country on a sustainable path to achieve net-zero emissions no later than 2050. We’ll elevate the incredible work cities, states, and businesses have been doing to help reduce emissions and build a cleaner future. We’ll listen to and engage closely with the activists, including young people, who have continued to sound the alarm and demand change from those in power. And we’ll do all of this knowing that we have before us an enormous economic opportunity to create jobs and prosperity at home and export clean American-made products around the world, harnessing our climate ambition in a way that is good for American workers and the U.S. economy.”

Introducing his Climate and Environment dream team, Biden said, “When we think about climate change, we think ‘jobs .’.. A key plank of our Build Back Better economic plan is building a modern, climate-resilient infrastructure and clean energy future. We can put millions of Americans to work modernizing water, transportation, and energy infrastructure to withstand the impacts of extreme weather. When we think about renewable energy, we see American manufacturing, American workers, racing to lead the global market. We see farmers making American agriculture first in the world to achieve net-zero emissions and gaining new sources of income in the process. We see the small businesses and master electricians designing and installing innovative, energy-conserving buildings and homes. This will reduce electricity consumption and save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in energy costs.”

Biden added, “These aren’t pie-in-the-sky dreams. These are concrete, actionable solutions. And this team will get them done.”

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Karen Rubin

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