US President-elect Joe Biden this week announced his choices for the top officials to serve on the incoming administration’s climate team, rolling out a slate of nominees that could indicate a sharp change of direction at agencies that have direct influence over the nation’s oil and gas operations.
Biden has chosen New Mexico Representative Deb Haaland to head the US Department of the Interior and former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm to lead the Department of Energy, both cabinet-level positions that will require confirmation by a closely divided Senate.
If confirmed, Haaland will be the first Native American to lead the Interior Department, which oversees oil and gas operations on federal lands and offshore blocks.
Biden has pledged to end new drilling on public lands and waters, a proposition that will face legal and political challenges.
'We don't want to go back to normal' - Haaland
Haaland has acknowledged the importance of the oil and gas industry in her home state, while indicating that she would steer the department’s focus towards renewable energy and climate change mitigation.
In a Washington Post interview, Haaland said: “I come from New Mexico. It’s a big gas and oil state. And I care about every single job.”
However, she added: “We don’t want to go back to normal, right? We don’t want to go back to where we were because that economy wasn’t working for a lot of people.”
Granholm, if confirmed as Energy Secretary, will head a department with a broad remit governing the nation’s energy security, including maintaining emergency petroleum reserves, seeing that oil and gas reserves are developed responsibly and executing natural gas regulatory responsibilities, according to the White House.
Among the organisations under the energy department’s purview is the National Energy Technology Laboratory, which funds and manages research in the production and use of domestic energy resources.
Other picks for what Biden has called his “climate team” include Michael Regan, current Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, to serve as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; and Brenda Mallory, Director of Regulatory Policy at the Southern Environmental Law Center, to be Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality.
Gina McCarthy, who served as EPA administrator under former President Barack Obama, will be the first-ever National Climate Advisor, heading up the newly formed White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, where Ali Zaidi, who worked with the Obama-Biden Administration on climate issues, will serve as Deputy National Climate Advisor.
Biden said in a statement announcing the nominees: “This brilliant, tested, trailblazing team will be ready on day one to confront the existential threat of climate change with a unified national response rooted in science and equity.
"They share my belief that we have no time to waste to confront the climate crisis, protect our air and drinking water, and deliver justice to communities that have long shouldered the burdens of environmental harms.”
The President-elect promised to “seize the opportunity to build back better with good-paying union jobs, climate-resilient infrastructure, and a clean energy future that benefits every single community".
The choices were welcomed by Democrats who had been pushing Biden to address what many consider racial inequities in US energy policy.
In addition to Haaland’s historic nomination, Regan and Mallory, if confirmed, will be the first black people to serve in their respective roles.
Haaland, re-elected to her second term in the House of Representatives in November, was championed by Democratic party progressives and will likely face intense scrutiny in Senate confirmation hearings.
Early industry reaction to the new line-up was reserved but conciliatory.
“We stand ready to work with the President-elect’s nominees once confirmed to tackle the challenge of climate change by building on America’s progress in delivering affordable and reliable energy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions to generational lows,” said American Petroleum Institute president and chief executive Mike Sommers.
However, Sommers’ statement suggested the group would fight efforts to limit access to oil and gas resources on federal lands.
“We will also be watching closely to ensure that the incoming administration keeps President-elect Biden’s campaign promises to the energy workforce and protects the millions of jobs supported by our industry in states like New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania and across the country,” he said.
In a statement released on Thursday, New Mexico Oil & Gas Association president Ryan Flynn said: “The policies enacted by the next Interior Secretary and administration will have enormous impact on our state and will determine how much or little our state is able to support critical needs like public schools, healthcare, and first responders.
“We hope Rep Haaland will employ a balanced approach that considers the needs of all who depend on public lands, including the thousands of men and women and families whose livelihoods depend on access to public lands for resource development.”