Biden says climate team “to address an existential threat of our time” Updated for 2021

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Updated: March 2, 2021

U.S. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Saturday, introduced his climate team, saying it will lead his administration’s ambitious plan “to address an existential threat of our time — climate change.”

“Like their fellow-Cabinet nominees and appointments, members of our environment and energy team are brilliant, qualified and tested, and barrier-busting,” Biden said in remarks at the event in Wilmington, Delaware, adding that “today’s nominees are ready on Day One, which is essential because we literally have no time to lose.”

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Biden introduced Congresswoman Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior; Governor Jennifer Granholm, Secretary of Energy; Michael Regan, EPA Administrator; Brenda Mallory, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality; Administrator Gina McCarthy, National Climate Advisor; and Ali Zaidi, Deputy National Climate Advisor. 

Biden said climate change is affecting virtually all aspects of life in the United States, triggering billions of dollars in damage.

“Homes and memories washed away. Small businesses closed up for good. Crops and farmlands destroyed for the next generation family farmer.

“Just last year, the Defense Department reported that climate change is a direct threat to more than two-thirds of the military’s operationally critical installations. And this could well be a conservative estimate.

“And so many climate and health calamities are colliding at once.
It’s not just a pandemic that keeps people inside — it’s poor air quality.
Multiple studies have shown air pollution is associated with an increased risk of death from Covid-19. Folks, we’re in a crisis,” Biden said.

Read full remarks by President-elect Joe Biden in Wilmington, Delaware

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by President-elect Joe Biden in Wilmington, Delaware

Good afternoon.

Today I am pleased to announce the team that will lead my Administration’s ambitious plan to address an existential threat of our time — climate change.

Like their fellow-Cabinet nominees and appointments, members of our environment and energy team are brilliant, qualified and tested, and barrier-busting.

With today’s announcements there will be six African American members of our Cabinet. 

A record.

After today, our Cabinet won’t just have one or two precedent-breaking appointments, but 12 — including today’s long-overdue appointment of the first Native American Cabinet Secretary.

Already there are more people of color in this Cabinet than any Cabinet ever. More women than ever.

The Biden-Harris Cabinet will be an historic Cabinet.

A Cabinet that looks like America. 

That taps into the best of America.

That opens doors and includes the full range of talents we have in this nation.

And like the rest of the team, today’s nominees are ready on Day One, which is essential because we literally have no time to lose.

Just this year, wildfires burned more than 5 million acres in California, Washington, and across the West — an area roughly the size of the entire state of New Jersey.

Intense and powerful hurricanes and tropical storms pummeled Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, and across the Gulf and along the East Coast. 

Record floods, hurricane-speed windstorms, and severe droughts ravaged the Midwest.

And more Americans see and feel the devastation in big cities and small towns, on coastlines and farmlands, in red states and blue states.

Billions of dollars in damage. Homes and memories washed away. Small businesses closed up for good. Crops and farmlands destroyed for the next generation family farmer.

Just last year, the Defense Department reported that climate change is a direct threat to more than two-thirds of the military’s operationally critical installations. And this could well be a conservative estimate.

And so many climate and health calamities are colliding at once.
It’s not just a pandemic that keeps people inside — it’s poor air quality.
Multiple studies have shown air pollution is associated with an increased risk of death from Covid-19. 

Folks, we’re in a crisis.

Just like we need a unified national response to COVID-19, we need a unified national response to climate change. 
 
We need to meet this moment with the urgency it demands as we would during any national emergency.

And from the crisis, we need to seize the opportunity to build back better than we were before. 
That’s what this Administration will do.

When we think about climate change, we think “jobs.” Good-paying union 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.

And we will challenge everyone to step up.

We will bring America back into the Paris Agreement and put us back in the business of leading the world on climate change.

The current Administration reversed the Obama-Biden fuel-efficiency standards and picked Big Oil companies over the American workers. Our Administration will not only bring those standards back — we will set new, ambitious ones that our workers are ready to meet.

We see American workers building and installing 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations across the country. 

We see American consumers switching to electric vehicles through rebates and incentives.

Not only that — the federal government owns and maintains an enormous fleet of vehicles. 

And we’re going to harness the purchasing power of our federal government to make sure we are buying clean, electric vehicles that are made and sourced by union workers right here in America.

All together, this will mean one million new jobs in the American auto industry. 

And we’ll do another big thing: put us on a path of achieving a carbon-pollution-free electricity sector by 2035 that no future president can turn back.

Transforming the American electricity sector to produce power without carbon pollution will be the greatest spur to job creation and economic competitiveness in the 21st Century, not to mention the benefits to our health and our environment.
 
But we need to get to work right away.
 
We’ll need scientists at national labs, land-grant universities, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities to innovate the technologies needed to generate, store, and transmit this clean electricity.
 
We’ll need engineers to design them and workers to manufacture them.

We’ll need ironworkers and welders to install them.

That’s how we’ll become the world’s largest exporter of these technologies, creating even more jobs.

We know how to do this. 

The Obama-Biden Administration rescued the auto industry and helped them retool. 

We made solar energy cost-competitive with traditional energy and weatherized more than a million homes.

The Recovery Act made record clean energy investments — $90 Billion — on everything from smart grid systems to clean energy manufacturing.

We will do it again — bigger, and faster, and better than before.

We’ll also build 1.5 million new energy-efficient homes and public housing units that will benefit our communities three-times over by alleviating the affordable housing crisis, by increasing energy efficiency, and by reducing the racial wealth gap linked to homeownership.

We’ll create more than a quarter-million jobs right away, to do things like working toward plugging the 3.2 million abandoned oil and gas wells that the EPA says pose an ongoing threat to the health and safety of our communities.

We’ll launch a new, modern-day Civilian Climate Corps to heal our public lands and make us less vulnerable to wildfires and floods.

And I believe that every American has a fundamental right to breathe clean air and drink clean water. 

But I know that we haven’t fulfilled that right. No, we haven’t fulfilled that right for a generation or more in places like Cancer Alley in Louisiana or along the Route 9 corridor right here in Delaware.

Fulfilling this basic obligation to all Americans, especially in low-income white, Black, Brown, and Native American communities who too often don’t have clean air and clean water is not going to be easy.

But it is necessary. And we are committed to facing climate change by delivering environmental justice. 

These aren’t pie-in-the-sky dreams. These are concrete, actionable solutions.

And this team will get them done. 

For Secretary of the Interior, I nominate Congresswoman Deb Haaland.

She’s of the Pueblo people. A 35th-generation New Mexican.

She’s from a military family. Her mom, also Pueblo, served in the United States Navy. Her dad, Norwegian American, a Marine now buried in Arlington.

A single mom, she raised her child while running a small business.

When times were tough, they relied on food stamps.

Congresswoman Haaland graduated from law school and got involved in politics.

Two years ago, she became one of the first Native American women to serve in Congress.

She serves on the Armed Services Committee, and Committee on Natural Resources, and Chairs the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands, where she’s earned the respect 
of a broad coalition of people — from tribal leaders to environmental groups to labor. 

As the first Native American Cabinet Secretary in the history of the United States of America, she will be a true steward of our national parks, natural resources, and all of our lands.

The federal government has long broken promises to Native American tribes who have been on this land since time immemorial. 

With her appointment, Congresswoman Haaland will help me strengthen the nation-to-nation relationship, and I am honored she accepted this critical role.

For Secretary of Energy, I nominate Jennifer Granholm.

The first woman to ever serve as Governor of Michigan.

In 2009, she faced the collapse of a defining industry of her state and our nation.

But I saw firsthand how she responded. She bet on the autoworkers. She bet on the promise of a clean energy future.

Her leadership helped rescue the American auto industry, helped save one million American jobs, and helped bring Detroit back.

Governor Granholm is just like the state she led so effectively for eight years: hard-working, resilient, and forward-thinking.

Someone not only capable of solving urgent problems, but someone who sees the opportunities of the future always with her eyes on the needs and aspirations of working people.

Throughout her career, she’s worked with states, cities, business, and labor to promote a clean energy future with new jobs, new industries, cleaner and more affordable energy. 

Now, I’m asking her to bring that vision and faith in America to the Department of Energy. 

For Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, I nominate Michael Regan.

A proud son of North Carolina, he turned a passion for exploring the woods and waters of the Inner Coastal Plain into a deep expertise in environmental science.

He got his start at the EPA serving in both Democratic and Republican Administrations, working on everything from reducing air pollution to improving energy efficiency.

He currently serves as Secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, 
where he’s brought people together across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to help build a new clean energy economy, creating quality jobs, and confronting climate change.

He led the charge to clean up the Cape Fear River, contaminated for years by dangerous toxic chemicals.

And he created North Carolina’s first board of its kind to address environmental justice and equity. 

It helps lift up frontline and fenceline communities who had carried the burdens of industrial progress for too long, without sharing in the benefits.

Michael would be the second African American official and first African American man to serve in this position.

He shares my belief in forging consensus and finding common purpose.

He is the leader who will reassert the EPA’s place as the world’s premier environmental protection agency that safeguards our planet, protects our lives, and strengthens our economy for all Americans.

For Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, I nominate Brenda Mallory.

An accomplished public servant. A brilliant environmental lawyer.

A daughter of a working-class family who has dedicated her life to solving the most complex environmental challenges facing America.

She has served in both Democratic and Republican administrations, helping safeguard our public lands and helping communities manage their natural resources responsibly.

As Chair of CEQ, I’m asking her to coordinate our environmental efforts across the entire federal government to solve some of the most persistent environmental problems America faces today. 

Brenda would be the first African American official to hold this critical position. 

We are fortunate that one of the most widely respected environmental leaders in the country accepted the call to serve again.

To serve as the first-ever National Climate Advisor and lead the newly formed White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, I appoint Gina McCarthy.

The fact I’ve asked a former EPA Administrator to take this role and lead this new office shows how serious I am.

Gina’s got more than 30 years of experience.

She’s a policy wonk and a people person. 

A problem-solver and coalition builder.

As EPA Administrator, she was instrumental in carrying out the Obama-Biden Climate Action Plan.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Getting toxins out of the air we breathe. Conserving critical water sources.

She led our effort to help lower carbon emissions of existing power plants and power plants of the future.

And by doing the necessary work here at home, she helped us rally the world around the Paris Climate Accords.

Today, I’m asking her to take a singular focus on carrying out our ambitious climate agenda 
here at home, while my Special Envoy John Kerry leads our climate efforts around the world.

I’m grateful to work alongside her again.

And to serve as Deputy National Climate Advisor, I appoint Ali Zaidi.

He served as a top climate advisor to President Obama and me at the Office of Management and Budget and the Domestic Policy Council. 

He helped draft and implement our Climate Action Plan and secure the Paris Climate Agreement.

He currently serves as New York’s Deputy Secretary of Energy and Environment and the State’s Chairman of Climate Policy and Finance.

He’s helping to create jobs generating solar and wind power, jobs building electric charging stations and a more modern grid, bold climate action grounded in science, economics, and public health.

And, he’s an immigrant from Pakistan who grew up in the Rust Belt, outside Erie, Pennsylvania.

Ali knows we can beat the climate crisis with jobs. 

He knows we can deliver environmental justice and revitalize communities too often overlooked and forgotten. 

And every day he’ll walk into the White House, knowing the world is looking for America to lead.

To each of you, thank you for answering the call to serve.

To your families, thank you. 

We could not do this without you or them.

To the career civil servants at these agencies, we look forward to working with you to once again carry out your department’s mission with honor and integrity.

And to the American people — yes, the goals I’ve laid today are bold. 

The challenges ahead are daunting.

But I want you to know that we can do this.

We must do this. 

And we will do this.

We are America. 

And there’s nothing we can’t do when we work together.

May God bless you all.

May God protect our troops.

I’ll now turn it over to the team, starting with our next Secretary of the Interior, Congresswoman Deb Haaland.

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Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba covers the White House, the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions for Today News Africa in Washington D.C. Simon can be reached on simonateba@todaynewsafrica.com

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