On Thursday, December 17, President-elect Biden announced the members of his climate team. Biographies for each individual are below.
Deb Haaland, Secretary of Interior
Haaland is completing her first term in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing New Mexico’s 1st congressional district. She won reelection by a comfortable margin in the 2020 election. Haaland is one of the first two Native American women elected to the U.S. Congress, alongside Rep. Sharice Davids (D-KS). She is currently Vice Chair of the Committee on Natural Resources. Haaland is a member of the Laguna Pueblo people. If confirmed by the Senate, Haaland will be the first Native American to serve in the Cabinet (and in the role of Secretary of the Interior).
Haaland has been politically active in New Mexico for many years, though did not hold elected office prior to her election to Congress in 2019. Haaland was the vote director for Native Americans for New Mexico during Obama’s 2012 presidential reelection campaign and served as chair of the New Mexico Democratic Party’s Native American Caucus from 2012 to 2013. She served a 2-year term as Chair of the New Mexico Democratic Party in 2015.
After graduating college, Haaland started a salsa company to support herself and her mother, and at times was housing insecure and relied on food stamps. She served as the tribal administrator for the San Felipe Pueblo from 2013 through 2015 and was the first chairwoman of the Laguna Development Corporation Board of Directors, where she helped oversee business operations for the second largest tribal gaming enterprise in New Mexico while prioritizing environmentally friendly practices. Haaland earned her bachelor’s and her J.D. in Indian Law from the University of New Mexico.
Jennifer Granholm, Secretary of Energy
Granholm served two terms as Michigan’s 47th governor (2003 to 2011) after serving as Michigan’s attorney general (1998 to 2002). As governor, Granholm worked to diversify Michigan’s economy, strengthen the state’s auto industry, preserve the manufacturing sector, and add emerging sectors like clean energy to Michigan’s economic portfolio. Granholm is credited with steering Michigan through a recession and working with the Obama administration on the 2009 bailout of the automobile industry.
Following her time as governor, Granholm has held a variety of positions, both within and outside the political arena. Outside of politics, Granholm has been active in national dialogue around the use of clean energy. Granholm was an advisor to Pew Charitable Trusts’ Clean Energy Program. Granholm teaches at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley and is a Senior Research Fellow at the California Institute for Energy and Environment and the Berkeley Center for Information Technology Research in the Interests of Society. She is also an advisory board member at The University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, MIT’s Work of the Future Initiative, and Carnegie Mellon University’s Future of Work Initiative. She also co-authored A Governor’s Story: The Fight for Jobs and America’s Economic Future. Granholm founded and was Chair for five years of the American Jobs Project which is a 30-state multi-university research project focused on advanced manufacturing jobs in clean energy.
In the political sphere, Granholm has remained a nationally recognized figure, and has repeatedly been the subject of speculation for government posts. During the Obama administration, Granholm was rumored to be in the running for multiple cabinet positions, though was never nominated. Granholm also served as the co-chair of Hillary Clinton’s Transition Team in 2016. She is a Senior Political Contributor to CNN, CEO of Granholm Mulhern Associates, a Senior Advisor to progressive groups Media Matters and America Bridge, and serves on the board of directors of Proterra and Marinette Marine Corporation.
Granholm was a judicial clerk for Michigan’s 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, became a federal prosecutor in Detroit in 1990, and was appointed Wayne County Corporation Counsel in 1994. Granholm is an honors graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and Harvard Law School. Granholm was born in Vancouver, Canada, which precludes her from falling in the line of succession to the presidency, despite becoming a naturalized citizen.
Michael Regan, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Regan is currently the Secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, a position he has held since 2017. During Regan’s tenure as North Carolina’s top environmental official, he is credited with orchestrating a multibillion-dollar settlement between the state and Duke Energy on coal ash cleanup, breaking the long-running dispute and resulting in the most expensive ash cleanup plan in the nation. Regan also helped to create an environmental justice advisory board – though he faced criticism for not doing more to block the construction of natural gas pipelines.
Previously, Regan worked for the EPA for over 9 years, ending his tenure in the EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards. After leaving the EPA in 2008, Regan joined the Environmental Defense Fund, rising over 8 years to become the Associate Vice President for U.S. Climate and Energy and the Southeast Regional Director.
Regan earned his bachelor’s in science, earth, and environmental science from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and his Master of Public Administration from the George Washington University.
Brenda Mallory, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality
Mallory was the General Counsel for the White House Council on Environmental Quality under the Obama administration. Mallory assumed the role after serving as Acting General Counsel and the Principal Deputy General Counsel at the EPA.
Mallory is currently the Director of Regulatory Policy for the Southern Environmental Law Center. Prior to assuming that role, Mallory served as Executive Director and Senior Counsel for the Conservation Litigation Project.
Mallory has also spent time in private practice, serving as Chair of the National Resources Practice Group at Beveridge & Diamond. Mallory received her undergraduate degree from Yale University and her law degree from Columbia University.
Gina McCarthy, National Climate Advisor
McCarthy served as Administrator of the EPA under President Obama from July 2013 to January 2017, following her appointment as Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation in 2009. While administrator, McCarthy finalized the Clean Power Plan that set the first national standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
Prior to joining the EPA, McCarthy served as the Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection. She also served five Massachusetts governors as Deputy Secretary of the Office of Commonwealth Development and Undersecretary for Policy for the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs.
Since January, McCarthy has served as president of the National Resources Defense Council. She is a Professor of Public Health in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment. After leaving the Obama administration, McCarthy was a Senior Leadership Fellow at both the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. She is also an Operating Advisor at Pegasus Capital Advisors.
McCarthy graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Boston with a Bachelor of Arts in Social Anthropology and from Tufts University with a joint Master of Science in Environmental Health Engineering and Planning and Policy.
Ali Zaidi, Deputy National Climate Advisor
Zaidi is the Deputy Secretary for Energy and Environment for New York State and advised the Biden campaign on climate and environmental justice policy. Zaidi joined Governor Andrew Cuomo’s staff in April and has focused on cutting New York’s carbon output and reducing pollution that disproportionately affects communities of color.
Zaidi served in a number of roles in the Obama administration. Zaidi became the Associate Director for Natural Resources, Energy, and Science at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in 2014. He also served as OMB’s chief policy official for implementation of the Climate Action Plan. Zaidi also served as the Deputy Director of Energy Policy for the White House Domestic Policy Council and as Senior Director for Cabinet Affairs at the White House.
Zaidi previously served as a Precourt Scholar and Adjunct Professor at Stanford University and co-founded Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy. He was Vice Chair of the Center for Carbon Removal, a Trustee of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Director of America’s Promise Alliance and of The Generations Initiative, and Co-Chair of the Aspen Institute EEP’s Strategy Group on Future of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. Zaidi graduated with an A.B. and J.D. from Harvard University and Georgetown University.
Biden’s agenda for energy and environmental policy is expected to provide among the starkest contrasts with the previous administration. The Trump administration rescinded environmental protections, named a former attorney for the coal industry to lead the EPA, and focused energy development efforts in more traditional sectors. Conversely, Biden has pledged to address climate change and pursue an agenda of clean energy and green job creation.
Still, Biden is likely to walk a tightrope. Biden’s position on fracking became a focal point in the closing days of the election, with Republicans claiming Biden intended to end the practice and Biden insisting it would continue. Biden will face pressure from progressives to be more aggressive, particularly given his refusal to endorse the Green New Deal, while being wary of the unpopularity of environmental protections in large parts of the country. His decision to nominate Granholm provides him with an experienced rust belt voice to lead public dialogue on clean energy and the auto industry.
Biden’s selections serve as the most recent example of the administration’s preference for figures with previous federal experience. Regan, Zaidi, Mallory, and McCarthy all served in federal roles in the Obama administration, leaving them not only well-versed in issues before the country but familiar with how to work within the federal government to effectuate change. Granholm, Regan, and Zaidi bring experience working within state governments as well.
Haaland would be the latest official from a Western state to lead the Department of the Interior, which has jurisdiction over federal lands that make up a significant portion of New Mexico. Rumors suggest the Biden administration originally offered the position to New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, who declined the position.
Granholm, Haaland, and Regan will require Senate confirmation for their posts. Republicans will likely pose heated questions to both Granholm and Regan, who will carry responsibility for carrying Biden’s clean energy agenda forward. However, it remains unclear if Republicans will present serious challenges to either.
As a reminder, the staff named today join John Kerry on Biden’s team of advisors on climate issues. Kerry, a former Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, and candidate for president, was named earlier to the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. As Secretary of State, Kerry led efforts to align the United States with the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Something to watch: how will these decision-makers mesh into a decision-making infrastructure on what are controversial yet critical policies? Kerry will clearly have a focus on international efforts to collaborate on climate change, while McCarthy will serve as the point person for domestic climate policy across all agencies – including the EPA, the Department of Energy, and the Department of the Interior. Regan and Granholm’s work will presumably flow through McCarthy on a technical level, though they will likely carry the responsibility of more external engagement given the Senate confirmed positions.
As Biden’s team kicks into gear, look for the new administration to not only pursue a new agenda, but aggressively roll back policies the Trump administration put in place. Some examples of policies under scrutiny: two methane emissions rules finalized by the EPA in August, changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the EPA’s proposed rule for cost-benefit analyses related to air pollution rules. Expect the USDA’s October rule exempting the Tongass National Forest from the “roadless rule,” which opens up it to logging, to be in the mix.
- Press Release via Biden Transition Website