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In their own words: Biden climate team vows to work hard from day one Updated for 2021

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Updated: February 26, 2021

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

President-elect Joe Biden
President-elect Joe Biden

“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. 

The President-elect 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.

The nominees and appointees pledged to work hard from day one. Below is what each of them promised in their own words.

Remarks by Nominee for Secretary of Interior, Deb Haaland in Wilmington, Delaware

Congresswoman Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior
Congresswoman Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior

Thank you.

I’m proud to stand here — on the ancestral homelands of the Lenape Tribal Nation. 

The president-elect and vice president-elect are committed to a diverse cabinet, and I’m honored and humbled to accept their nomination for Secretary of the Interior. 

Growing up in my mother’s Pueblo household made me fierce. My life has not been easy — I struggled with homelessness, relied on food stamps, and raised my child as a single mom. 

These struggles give me perspective to help people succeed. 

My grandparents — who were taken away from their families as children and sent to boarding school, in an effort to destroy their traditions and identities — maintained our culture. 

This moment is profound when we consider the fact that a former Secretary of the Interior once proclaimed it his goal to, quote, ‘civilize or exterminate’ us. I’m a living testament to the failure of that horrific ideology.

I also stand on the shoulders of my ancestors, and all the people who have sacrificed so that I can be here. 

My dad was a US Marine, and no matter where we were stationed, he made sure we spent time outdoors. 

Time with my dad in the mountains or on the beach and time with my grandparents in the cornfield at Laguna taught me to respect the Earth and to value our resources. I carry those values with me everywhere. I’m a product of their resilience. 

As our country faces the impacts of climate change and environmental injustice, the Interior Department has a role to address these challenges. 

The president-elect’s goals are driven by justice and empowering communities who have shouldered the burdens of environmental negligence.  

And we will ensure that the decisions at Interior will once again be driven by science.

We know that climate change can only be solved with participation of every department and of every community coming together in common purpose — this country can and will tackle this challenge. 

The president-elect and vice president-elect know that issues under Interior’s jurisdiction aren’t simply about conservation — they’re woven in with justice, good jobs, and closing the racial, wealth, and health gaps. 

This historic moment will not go by without the acknowledgment of the many people who have believed in me over the years and had the confidence in me for this position.

I’ll be fierce for all of us, for our planet, and all of our protected land.

I am honored and ready to serve.

Remarks by Nominee for Secretary of Energy, Jennifer Granholm in Wilmington, Delaware

Governor Jennifer Granholm, Secretary of Energy
Governor Jennifer Granholm, Secretary of Energy

Mr. President-elect, Madam Vice President-elect — thank you for your confidence.

I bring my gratitude, and that of the loves of my life: My best friend and husband Dan Mulhern, my glorious children and their equally magnificent spouses — Connor and Alexis, Cece and Damián, and Jack.  

My commitment to clean energy was forged in the fire.

I was the Governor of Michigan when the Great Recession struck, pushing the auto industry — the lifeblood of our state — to the brink of collapse.

Workers were losing their jobs through no fault of their own.

Banks wouldn’t lend; families lost their homes; our unemployment rate shot up to 15 percent.

But then, thankfully, as now, “help was on the way.”

Joe Biden and the Obama administration worked with us to rescue the auto industry, save a million jobs, retool and electrify Detroit for the future, and diversify Michigan’s economy on the strength of a new sector: clean energy.

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. 

I know what those jobs will mean for families.

Though I’m proud to have been a U.S. citizen for 40 years, I arrived here as a Canadian immigrant at age four, brought by parents seeking opportunity. 

My mom is a funny and fierce Irish/Welsh “Newfie” from Newfoundland, Canada — an island fishing province they call “The Rock.”

Like many women in her generation, she never went to college.

My dad died earlier this year of a cerebral hemorrhage.

He was born into extreme poverty, in a cabin in rural Canada with no running water.

My grandfather had immigrated from Sweden during the depression; unable to find a job to provide for his young family, he shot himself in desperation when my dad was three years old.

My grandmother became a single mom, with three young children, living in dire poverty.

My dad found work at a sawmill at 11. And after he married my mom, they came to America for better jobs.  

Despite not having a college degree, my hard-working, gentle dad got the fair chance he was looking for in America — he started out as a bank teller, and retired as head of the bank.

It is because of my family’s journey — and my experience fighting for hardworking Michigan families — that I have become obsessed.

Obsessed with creating good-paying jobs in America — obsessed with seizing the opportunities of a clean energy future.

We can let other countries beat us to those opportunities, or we can get in the game.

I’m so ready, and honored, Coach, that you are putting me on the field with this amazing team — to help create those jobs in every pocket of this country, and especially in the hardest-hit places, for the people still waiting on the fair chance they need.

Thank you for tapping me to work on their behalf.

Remarks by Nominee for Administrator of the EPA, Michael Regan in Wilmington, Delaware

Michael Regan, EPA Administrator
Michael Regan, EPA Administrator

Mr. President-elect, Madam Vice President-elect: Thank you for this opportunity.

Growing up as a child, hunting and fishing with my father and grandfather in eastern North Carolina — I developed a deep love and respect for the outdoors and our natural resources.

But I also experienced respiratory issues that required me to use an inhaler on days when pollutants and allergens were especially bad.

I’ve always been curious about the connections between our environment and our health — how the world around us contributes to, or detracts from, our enjoyment of life.

So after completing my education in environmental science, there was one place in particular I wanted to work: the EPA.

When I started that first summer internship, I never imagined I would one day be nominated to lead the agency as its Administrator.

So this opportunity is a dream come true.

Since the start of my career, my goals have been the same: To safeguard our natural resources; to improve the quality of our air and water; to protect families and communities and help them seize the opportunities of a cleaner, healthier world.

Now, I’m honored to pursue those goals alongside leaders who understand what’s at stake.

When President-elect Biden called out the plight of fenceline communities during the campaign, he made it clear that we would no longer just deal with issues up to the fencelines of facilities — we would actually see the people on the other side of those fences.

He has already backed up that commitment by assembling a team that reflects America — and I’m proud to join the vice president-elect as a fellow HBCU graduate in this administration.

Together, this team will ensure that environmental justice and human impacts are top of mind as we tackle the tough issues.

After nearly a decade at the EPA, I know firsthand the remarkable dedication and talent of the career staff.

And as a state official, I understand how the actions of the EPA can help or hurt local efforts.

We are going to ensure that the EPA is once again a strong partner for the states — not a roadblock.

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.

And that’s what we’ll pursue together. 

I look forward to continuing that work on behalf of the American people.

Remarks by Appointee for Chair of the CEQ, Brenda Mallory in Wilmington, Delaware

Brenda Mallory, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality
Brenda Mallory, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality

Good afternoon.

Mr. President-elect — Madam Vice President-elect —I am honored and humbled by the trust you’ve placed in me, and I look forward to getting to work with this incredible team.

I am especially grateful for this chance to return to public service at a time when agency personnel are looking for optimism, and so many communities are struggling under the weight of persistent and interwoven crises.

I know first-hand the challenges that everyday people face when one unexpected illness or expense can upend the economic stability of a family.

I grew up in the working-class community of Waterbury, Connecticut — a town not so different from Scranton, Pennsylvania.

I know the faces of the marginalized, and I appreciate the challenges of urban pollution. 

While the words climate change and environmental injustice were not part of my vernacular back then, the evidence of their impacts was all around.

In that setting, there was plenty of opportunity to work to make a difference in people’s lives.

For my parents, and particularly my father, dedication to tackling community challenges was vitally important.

Service, in all its forms, was essential.

They taught me to be a problem-solver — to recognize that each of us is blessed with different talents, and we are called to bring those gifts to bear wherever we are to work with anyone and everyone to make things better in the communities we share.

This has been a driving force and a guiding principle on my journey. 

I earned a high school scholarship that changed the course of my life. 

I became the first in my family to go to college, I attended law school, and at each stage, I was aware of how different the world I came from was from the one I was entering.

I didn’t set out to specialize in environmental issues, but once I started, I was always mindful of the practical implications of decisions.

As a staffer at the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights, I learned that environmental protection and ensuring the health and wellbeing of all communities had to be reconciled.  

It is essential that we deploy smart and humane policy to help communities pull themselves back from the edge and improve the health, security, and prosperity of all their people.

The Build Back Better plan is poised to breathe new life into the Council on Environmental Quality. 

CEQ will work with a broad range of partners on a broad range of issues, tackle the full breadth of climate change, preserve the natural treasures of our nation, center environmental justice, and help more communities overcome legacy environmental impacts.

I am grateful to the President-elect and the Vice President-elect for elevating this work and lifting up the communities where it will make a world of difference.

Thank you for this opportunity to serve.

Remarks by Appointee for White House Climate Coordinator, Gina McCarthy in Wilmington, Delaware

Gina McCarthy, National Climate Advisor
Gina McCarthy, National Climate Advisor

Mr. President-elect — Madam Vice President-elect—

Thank you for the opportunity to serve — and to work alongside this talented team.

The issues I’ll be taking on in this role are personal to me, and have been for as long as I can remember.

As keen listeners may have already guessed, I grew up in and around Boston.

My Dad was a teacher in the Boston Schools for more than 40 years; my Mom waitressed in local doughnut shops.

Looking back, I guess we were a lower-middle-class family. Instead of expensive vacations, my sisters and I did our adventuring in our backyard, playing in the woods and around ponds in our hometown.  

A beach day for our family was a swim in Boston Harbor.

That meant coming out of the water with oil and other things stuck to our skin — so we’d have to dry and clean ourselves at the same time.

That was back in the 60s, before the first Earth Day — not the Boston Harbor of today.  

I can remember jumping up to close the windows in my classroom when the chemical stench from the nearby rubber factory would start wafting in.

That smell kept us from outside recess on more days than I cared to remember. 

So I figured out early on that there was a connection between our environment and our health.  

And that understanding drew me into a long career of public service helping families and communities like mine, and those facing much steeper and more insidious legacies of environmental harm to overcome the challenges that were holding them back.

Environmental protection is part of my moral fiber.

And I am proud of the progress we’ve made and the work I did in local and state governments as well as at EPA to make air and water cleaner, make communities safer and more livable, and begin to confront 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 wellbeing of people, and the precious natural resources we depend on.

Defeating that threat is the fight of our lifetimes.

And our success will require the engagement of every community and every sector in our nation, and every country across our world. 

But the opportunities to act on climate right now fill me with hope, energy, and excitement.

We not only have the responsibility to meet this moment together, we have the capacity to meet this moment together.

The President-elect has put together the strongest climate plan ever raised to this level of leadership.

It rises to this incredible moment of opportunity to build back better for our health, for jobs, and for communities that have been systemically disadvantaged for years.

It will be my honor to help turn this plan into promises kept by marshaling every part of our government, working directly with communities, and harnessing the forces of science — and the values of environmental justice — to build a better future for my two—soon to be three—little grandchildren, and for generations of Americans to come.

Thank you for this opportunity to help put Americans back to work in innovative, good-paying jobs to improve the health of our communities and to help clear the path for people in every hometown in America to live brighter, cleaner, more vibrant lives.

Remarks by Appointee for Deputy White House Climate Coordinator, Ali Zaidi in Wilmington, Delaware

Ali Zaidi, Deputy National Climate Advisor
Ali Zaidi, Deputy National Climate Advisor

Thank you President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris.

I am deeply honored to answer your call to serve this nation that I love, especially at this moment of consequence.

For our planet and the people who live here, the peril of the climate crisis is already evident.

But we can also see the promise in the jobs — casting and machining, installing and rewiring, pouring new foundations and building new industries. 

And in the possibility of repairing communities hurt places where the pollution has been heavy, and opportunity has never quite reached.

Mr. President-elect & Madam Vice President-elect, you campaigned on delivering that promise by mounting a response equal to this existential threat, not only by listening to the science, but also by invigorating the economy. Revving up manufacturing and innovation, spurring good-paying union jobs and advancing justice — long overdue.

Leading by the example of America at its best.

When my parents moved from Pakistan to Pennsylvania, they brought two little kids — and a few suitcases of dreams.

Dreams their kids are living today: 

Danish, my brother: a doctor on the frontlines of the COVID crisis, and me: moving to frontlines of the fight against climate change.

To be healthy, to have purpose, and to be able to give back — that is how our parents taught us to define the American Dream.

I am so grateful to be serving alongside the team you have assembled.

Grateful for Gina McCarthy, my guide and good friend, for the incredible and inspiring leaders on this stage, and for those with whom we’ll partner all across your administration.

This has been a trying year for all Americans — marked by so much loss. But throughout, you have been there for us. 

And when the pandemic hit closer to home, you were there for me.

Mr. President-elect, that is who you are. A person of faith and family, decency and goodness. 

Your leadership gives me hope.    

My students, scientists imagining and inventing, give me hope

Young organizers, mobilizing and advocating, give me hope

And together, I know: We will meet this moment.

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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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