Government for climate leadership, innovation and justice

The newsletter for people "woke" on carbon and climate

Issue No. 55

Welcome to the latest issue of Carbon Creed - a curated newsletter for people “woke” on carbon and climate. 

Biden will announce his energy and climate “dream team” this week.

With the transition process finally underway, President-elect Biden has announced his picks to lead two teams: national security/foreign policy and economics/finance. On deck this week, he is poised to announce picks to lead the energy and climate team. Former Secretary John Kerry who was announced last week as the international climate envoy, is likely to be present for the announcements in Wilmington, DE.

IN THIS ISSUE we focus on climate governance under the new Biden-Harris administration. In the first post, we critique the leading prospects to run the energy and climate “dream team” for the Biden-Harris administration. The second post examines clean tech innovation under a proposal by billionaire Bill Gates, to create and fund a new government organization. Finally, we consider the implications of climate and environmental justice as a policy imperative across the federal government

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Biden’s Energy and Climate Cabinet Contenders

In November, President-elect Biden announced that former Secretary of State John Kerry, who made climate change a signature diplomatic issue during the Obama administration, will become an international “climate envoy.”

But the agency heads, whose names will be announced in the coming days, will be the ones tasked to find a path around Congress with regulations that can cut planet-warming emissions and survive judicial review. Here’s a snapshot of the leading contenders:

Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency

Mary D. Nichols

Mary Dolores Nichols is an American attorney and government official who has been the chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) since 2007. From 1999 to 2003, she served as secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency. Due to her efforts to combat global warming, she has been dubbed "the Queen of Green."

Ms. Nichols is the architect of California’s state’s cap-and-trade climate change law, which capped greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, then allowed utilities to buy and sell emissions credits to keep polluting at lower levels. She also helped craft her state’s tough regulations on climate-warming auto emissions, which served as a model for President Barack Obama’s federal climate policies.

Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality

Mustafa Santiago Ali

(source: NWF)

The White House Council on Environmental Quality coordinates and helps shape environmental policy across an administration. If confirmed, Mr. Ali would focus attention on racial disparities in federal environmental policy. With more than 20 years of experience at the E.P.A., Mr. Ali currently serves as vice president of environmental justice, climate and community revitalization for the National Wildlife Federation. He founded the agency’s Office of Environmental Justice and under the Obama administration served as a senior adviser to the administrator Gina McCarthy on environmental justice issues.

Mr. Ali also worked with the Hip Hop Caucus (HHC) as the Senior Vice President of Climate, Environmental Justice & Community Revitalization where he led the strategic direction, expansion and operation of their portfolio on climate, environmental justice, economic equality and civic engagement.

Secretary of the Interior

Michael Connor

(source: WilmerHale)

Mr. Connor, a former deputy secretary of the Interior in the Obama administration, would be extremely qualified for the post. He worked in the department throughout the Clinton administration, including four years as director of the Secretary’s Indian Water Rights Office. He later worked for then-Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico, on land, water, energy and Native American issues before returning to Interior during the Obama administration.

He is also a citizen of the Taos Pueblo, a sovereign nation near Taos, N.M., that is one of the country’s 574 federally recognized Native American tribes. A Native American has never been in a presidential cabinet, and the Interior Department has for much of the nation’s history governed huge swaths of federal land, especially in the West, and often dislodged and abused Native Americans.

Secretary of Energy

Ernest J. Moniz

(source: The Irish Times)

A nuclear physicist who served as Mr. Obama’s second energy secretary remains in the running to return to his old post. Dr. Moniz, now president and chief executive officer of the Energy Futures Initiative, a research organization, served as an informal adviser to Mr. Biden during the campaign and several people who worked under him at the Energy Department said they would be thrilled to do so again.

Though his biggest legacy is helping to secure the Iran nuclear deal, Dr. Moniz played a key behind-the-scenes role in the Paris Agreement on climate change as well, working to make clean energy a core part of the accord. Under Mission Innovation, a parallel agreement to the Paris deal, 19 nations and the United States agreed to double research and development spending on carbon emissions-free energy.

White House Climate Change Coordinator

Ali A. Zaidi

(source: The White House)

Mr. Zaidi, New York State’s deputy secretary of energy and environment, is widely considered the front-runner for the role of domestic climate change coordinator. The new position would require someone who could work with cabinet secretaries and other high-level figures like Mr. Kerry. Mr. Zaidi served as associate director of the White House Office of Management and Budget under Mr. Obama where he helped design the White House Climate Action Plan, a blueprint for cutting emissions.

While serving in the Obama administration, Zaidi argued that climate change was already having a negative impact on the U.S. economy and said it would result in trillions of dollars in lost revenue by 2100 if the government failed to take action. That would come from the costs of rising sea levels, increased insurance premiums, and the runaway price of responding to disasters and suppressing wildfires.

[This post was adapted from the original written by Coral Davenport and Lisa Friedman for The New York Times.]

Creed Comments: I don’t have a strong opinion about any of these front contenders for the Biden-Harris energy and climate team. Mr. Ali and Mr. Connor would be the first African American and Native American in their respective posts, which is certainly noteworthy . They all have supporters and detractors, but at the end of the day, if the President-elect wants them, he’s likely to see them confirmed by the U.S. Senate.


(source: New Yorker Magazine)

Gates calls for a new federal organization and 5X spending increase to fight climate change

Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft and one of the world’s richest men and most prolific philanthropists, has just released a broad new plan on how the U.S. could take the lead in the fight against climate change including a five-fold increase in funding for clean technology research.

“[We] need to revolutionize the world’s physical economy—and that will take, among other things, a dramatic infusion of ingenuity, funding, and focus from the federal government. No one else has the resources to drive the research we need.” - Bill Gates

Gates is calling for a dramatic $25 billion boost in spending that would bring clean energy research spending to $35 billion a year (in line with medical spending from the government). Gates notes that this could lead to the creation of more than 370,000 jobs while boosting a clean-energy agenda.

Gates noted that Americans spend more on gasoline in a single month than the government spends on climate-related research.

Beyond simply spending more money on research, the Microsoft-made billionaire called for the creation of a network of “National Institutes of Energy Innovation.”

Modeled on the National Institutes of Health, the largest financier for biomedical research in the world, Gates called for the Energy Innovation Institutes to comprise separate institutions focusing on specific areas. One would be an Institute of Transportation Decarbonization while others could focus on energy storage, renewables or carbon capture and management. Gates also suggested that each organization should be tasked with the commercialization for innovations that come out of the lab.

Finally, Gates called for the institutes to be located around the country — just like the Department of Energy or NASA have laboratories and research facilities spread around the country.

In addition to the research facilities and spending boosts, Gates called for a program of tax incentives and energy standards that could make markets for more clean-energy tools.

There are already pieces of legislation making their way through Congress like the Clean Energy Innovation and Jobs Act and the American Energy Innovation Act that could help the federal government move toward a more nimble and focused setup. But both of these laws have stalled. 

Even in a divided government though, there’s much the Biden administration can do to make a significant dent in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

[This post was adapted from the original written by Jonathan Shieber for TechCrunch.]

Creed Comments: Since stepping down from the Microsoft Board of Directors, Bill Gates has increasingly focused his time and attention on two issues: health and climate. What Gates is proposing here would completely change the clean tech investing and deployment landscape. He correctly makes the point, “There’s no central office that’s responsible for evaluating and nurturing great ideas,” in the federal government. Currently, it’s chopped up across multiple agencies (Energy, Defense, Transportation, NASA, and USDA). Redirecting and consolidating resources into a new entity could be a “solution multiplier” if leveraged with private investment. Yes, Gates will probably benefit financially - but at this juncture, climate solutions take priority. What would be truly innovative is for Gates (and Microsoft) to commit profits from these investments to opening the doors of clean tech for historically underserved communities.


(source: Sierra Club)

Biden-Harris Administration will increase federal focus on environmental justice

One of the most frequent terms heard in conjunction with President-Elect Biden’s energy and environmental agenda is “environmental justice,” (EJ) which is often described as an overarching objective as well as a key component of the incoming administration’s climate agenda. 

The Biden-Harris transition team has stated that a Biden Administration will “ensure that environmental justice is a key consideration in where, how, and with whom we build — creating good, union, middle-class jobs in communities left behind, righting wrongs in communities that bear the brunt of pollution, and lifting up the best ideas from across our great nation — rural, urban, and tribal.” 

Plans released during the Biden campaign, Vice President-Elect Harris’s proposed Environmental Justice for All Act, the personnel selected for the transition team, and public statements about EJ priorities from the Biden team and its supporters, all give some indication of what executive actions a Biden Administration may undertake to address EJ issues.  Further, there is significant development at the state-level on EJ (e.g., a newly enacted New Jersey law that integrates EJ into permitting decisions) that have been cited by the Biden transition team as a model.

In particular, a Biden Administration may take the following actions:

  • Revise Executive Order 12898 and Develop Performance Metrics

  • Select Personnel With Experience on EJ Issues to Senior Roles

  • Restructure Federal Agencies and Offices With Jurisdiction Over EJ Issues

  • Increase Focus on EJ in Permitting, Compliance Plans, and Environmental Reviews

  • Increase Opportunities for Public Input and Engagement with EJ Communities

Understanding Executive Order 12898

In 1994, President Clinton signed Executive Order 12898, entitled “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations.”  EO 12898 requires federal agencies to identify and address disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of their programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations.  EO 12898 also provides for access to information by and public participation of EJ communities in the federal decision-making process.  Since the 1990s, federal agencies have taken various steps to implement EO 12898 and address EJ issues.  The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in particular, have issued guidance on incorporating environmental justice goals into federal agency actions and studies, including National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews.

Go deeper here LINK.

[This post was adapted from the original written by Kerry L. McGrath and Andrew J. Turner for the National Law Review.]

Creed Comments: This is a good analysis and summary of actions the Biden-Harris administration could take to implement its environmental justice strategy. While I agree with most of the suggestions, I think it more likely that Biden-Harris will issue a new, expanded EO that builds upon provisions in EO 12898. After all, things have changed a lot since 1994. For one, environmental justice has evolved into climate justice, which has broader implications and consequences. And of course, the amount of funding dedicated to these programs will be the true tell. The Administration must choose carefully the folks that will lead and execute this groundbreaking effort across the federal government.


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