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Biden names key climate officials in departure from Trump

President-elect Biden has said that tackling climate change, the environment and green energy are top priorities for his administration. And so far, his team appears to be a mix of some familiar faces and some not-so-familiar faces. John Yang spoke with Amy Harder, an energy and climate reporter for Axios, to learn more.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President-elect Biden has said that tackling climate change, the environment and greener energy is a top priority of his administration.

    And, today, he filled out the rest of the team that will be taking the lead on these issues.

    The "NewsHour"s Yamiche Alcindor reports that New Mexico Representative Deb Haaland is Mr. Biden's pick to be interior secretary. If confirmed, she would be the first Native American to lead the department or to be in the Cabinet, and she would be overseeing a big piece of nation's natural resources, including tribal lands.

    John Yang looks at what the Biden picks bring to the table.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, Mr. Biden's team appears to be a mix some of familiar faces and some not-so-familiar faces.

    Including Representative Haaland, Mr. Biden's picks include Michael Regan, the head of North Carolina's Department of Environmental Quality, to head the Environmental Protection Agency, former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to be his senior climate change adviser, and former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm to be energy secretary. Earlier, Mr. Biden named former Secretary of State John Kerry as his global climate change envoy.

    Amy Harder covers energy and the climate for Axios. She joins us now.

    Amy, thanks so much for joining us.

    Let me start with Interior. What is the significance? Representative Haaland would be, if confirmed, the first Native American to run the Interior Department, which oversees a huge amount of land in the United States, including tribal lands.

  • Amy Harder:


    It is significant because she will be the first — if confirmed, she will be the first Native American to lead this agency in its 171-year history. And so that's important, because the Interior Department really runs and governs everything about the tribal lands, including extraction and conservation of their lands.

    And so it is very significant. It is not unlike when President Obama was elected president, as the first African American, the way African Americans feel in the U.S. And there is almost two million American Indians and Alaska Natives in the country, so it will be very significant.

  • John Yang:

    And the department has not always had the greatest relationship with tribal nations.

  • Amy Harder:


    There has been a lot of conflict, particularly under this administration, where the Trump administration, according to some Native American tribes, that he was not including them in consultations. And, also, he was rolling back — he has rolled back a whole host of conservation lands, including some on tribal lands.

    And so I think Biden will be really looking to mend those relationships.

  • John Yang:

    And among the names that we have been able to confirm, Michael Regan at EPA is probably the least familiar to people around the country.

    What can you tell us about Michael Regan?

  • Amy Harder:

    Oh, well, he will be the first African American male to be the EPA administrator. The first African American at all was Lisa Jackson under President Obama.

    He is actually winning accolades from a lot of people across the spectrum, including some industry lawyers that I have talked to in D.C. and environmental groups. And so I think he brings — what will be critical is state experience.

    And so president-elect Biden will be leaning heavily upon what states have already done and what they are going to continue to do in order to meet his climate change agenda. So, I think that experience is going to be really important.

  • John Yang:

    When you look at this team as a whole, what does it tell us about Mr. Biden's approach to the environment, to energy?

  • Amy Harder:


    Well, I will say two things on that. I think, first, he is leaning heavily on Obama era officials, because he knows he wants to hit the ground running the second January 20 arrives. That is why he picked Gina McCarthy, Obama's EPA administrator, to be the White House coordinator on climate change, and then also picking a really picking a diverse Cabinet, which, this year, amid the pandemic and a terrible recession, America has really been grappling with systemic racism.

    And so the calls to elect — to nominate — excuse me — a really diverse Cabinet is really evident in these picks. And so I think it is significant from that perspective.

    And then, when it comes to the policy, ultimately, the policy comes from the top down. So, I anticipate these people to really enforce the policies that president-elect Biden has campaigned on.

  • John Yang:

    We don't know the eventual makeup of the Senate yet, whether it is going to be Republican or Democrat. Either way, it is going to be very, very narrow.

    How likely is or how much trouble or how easy is it going to be for Mr. Biden to get his energy, environment, climate change agenda through Congress?

  • Amy Harder:

    It is going to be very difficult.

    Even if Democrats eke out a win in the Senate races in Georgia, the Democratic Party is not monolithic. And there will be some energy-intensive representative Democrats that are controlling the committees in a Democrat-controlled Senate, such as Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

    So I anticipate Biden to not try to go too big, from a congressional perspective, on energy and climate change, which is why these picks across the government and the executive branch are so important.

    Representative Deb Haaland is pretty progressive, even though she hails from New Mexico, which is a huge oil- and gas-producing state. And the oil industry was quick to point out in its statement today that it provides a lot of jobs in the oil and gas industry.

    But, nonetheless, Deb Haaland has said that she wants the Interior Department to go full steam ahead on renewable energy on federal lands.

    And so I anticipate that to be the type of policy that Biden really goes full forward on, as opposed to doing something like the Green New Deal or a carbon tax in Congress, because there's really not the support for that, no matter who controls the Senate.

  • John Yang:

    Amy Harder of Axios, thank you so much.

  • Amy Harder:

    You're welcome. Thank you.

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