Joe Biden enters the White House with a clear drive for change – how will he advance both energy and environmental imperatives as President?

Joe Biden’s inauguration as president comes at a time when America is in desperate need of healing, unity and a common vision to drive us forward as a nation. One of the areas in which Biden hopes to reclaim a sense of shared national purpose is in a renewed approach to addressing climate change.

While Biden has pushed back on some of the ideas floated by his party’s left flank – his rejection of the “Green New Deal” (as styled by some Democrats on Capitol Hill) and reluctance to ban fracking remain sticking points with green activists – he has repeatedly touted his environmental and sustainability agenda as the most progressive of any administration in history. Biden has been vocal about the need for the United States to claim leadership in reining in climate change and signed an executive order on his first day in office that recommitted the United States to the  Paris Climate Agreement. In addition, Biden will appoint former Secretary of State John Kerry as the first-ever United States Climate Envoy to help craft a global climate agenda.

But the Biden administration’s climate agenda is not just limited to the realm of geopolitics. The focus on global climate action will go hand in hand with a reinvigorated approach to addressing domestic environmental policy. Concerned that communities of color and low-income communities bear a disproportionate burden of the toll caused by climate change and environmental pollution, Biden has indicated that these frontline and fenceline communities must be prioritized in any discussions about how best to achieve environmental justice.

Biden has repeatedly said that he wants to invest in a clean energy future for all of America, rural, suburban and urban. His comprehensive plan charts a path to a carbon-neutral power sector by 2035 and for America to have zero emissions economy-wide by 2050. The ambitious plan aims to create 500,000 charging stations to mainstream the electric car market as well as to retrofit buildings to make them more energy-efficient. While Biden admits that this agenda has a high price tag, he has defended it as a pragmatic course of action as it would create thousands of high-paying jobs.

Biden’s cabinet picks also offer clues on how he might seek to govern. In addition to selecting a diverse slate of nominees, Biden has heeded the calls of environmentalists by nominating individuals that have already earned green credibility.

  • Energy Secretary nominee Jennifer Granholm created economic incentives for battery manufacturing, bio-energy, solar, and wind power as Governor of Michigan and is committed to advancing alternative energy sources in the Biden administration.
  • Health and Human Services Secretary nominee Xavier Becerra has sought to ensure economic development is viewed through the lens of social equity by establishing an environmental justice bureau during his tenure as California Attorney General. He also secured a settlement to ensure environmental protections after a major gas storage blowout in Southern California and sued to protect the National Environmental Policy Act and other environmental regulations from changes during the Trump administration.
  • In addition to being the first Native American woman nominated for a cabinet post, Interior Secretary nominee Deb Haaland joined the Standing Rock protests in opposition of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
  • As head of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, EPA Administrator Michael Regan helped win a multibillion-dollar settlement for communities affected by coal ash and led efforts to establish an environmental justice advisory board.

The challenge of ensuring affordable, reliable energy during a pandemic and economic downturn while also aggressively combatting climate change is enormous – even historic. Biden has made clear his intentions to act as a “President for all Americans” and govern through consensus. His choices and actions so far showcase his middle-ground position and give us all hope that he can deliver.

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