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Biden Taps Climate Team Focused on Environmental Racism & Science to Take Over from Industry Lobbyists

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Under pressure from progressives and communities of color, President-elect Joe Biden vowed Saturday to make environmental justice and science top concerns as he selects his climate team, which he formally introduced Saturday. If confirmed, many will represent historic firsts, including Michael Regan, who will be the first Black man to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Regan’s selection comes after weeks of speculation Biden would instead tap Mary Nichols, head of the California Air Resources Board, but faced opposition for what critics called her “bleak track record in addressing environmental racism.” Biden also tapped Democratic Congressmember Deb Haaland of New Mexico to lead the Interior Department, making her the first Native American Cabinet secretary in history. We feature highlights from Saturday’s speeches by Regan, Haaland and others, including environmental attorney Brenda Mallory, who will chair Biden’s Council on Environmental Quality; Gina McCarthy, head of the EPA under President Obama, who will lead a new White House Office of Climate Policy; and former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, who will be energy secretary.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Under pressure from progressives and communities of color, President-elect Joe Biden vowed Saturday to make environmental justice and science top concerns as he selects his climate team. Speaking at an event in Wilmington, Delaware, Biden introduced Michael Regan, head of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, as his choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. Regan will be the first Black man to direct the EPA, where he’s served in several roles during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, including as national program manager for the agency’s Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards.

Regan’s selection comes after weeks of speculation Biden would instead tap Mary Nichols, head of the California Air Resources Board, who fought the Trump administration’s attempt to roll back pollution protections. But more than 70 environmental justice groups wrote to Biden earlier this month to oppose her nomination, saying she has a, quote, “bleak track record in addressing environmental racism.” Nichols was instead tapped to head a new White House Office of Climate Policy.

This is Michael Regan accepting Biden’s nomination to lead the EPA.

MICHAEL REGAN: Growing up as a child, hunting and fishing with my father and grandfather in eastern North Carolina, I developed a deep love and respect for the outdoors and our natural resources. But I also experienced respiratory issues that required me to use an inhaler on days when pollutants and allergens were especially bad.

I’ve always been curious about the connections between our environment and our health — how the world around us contributes to, or detracts from, our enjoyment of life. So, after completing my education in environmental science, there was one place in particular that I wanted to work: the EPA.

When I started that first summer internship, I never imagined that one day I would be nominated to lead an agency as its administrator. So, this opportunity, well, it’s a dream come true.

Since the start of my career, my goals have been the same: to safeguard our natural resources, to improve the quality of our air and our water, to protect our families and our communities, and to help them seize the opportunities of a cleaner, healthier world. Now I’m honored to pursue those goals alongside leaders who understand what’s at stake.

When President-elect Biden called out the plight of the fenceline communities during the campaign, he made it clear that we would no longer just deal with the issues up to the fenceline of these facilities, but that we would actually see the people on the other side of those fencelines. He’s already backed up that commitment by assembling a team that reflects America. And I’m proud to join the vice president-elect as a fellow HBCU graduate in this administration. Together, this team will ensure that environmental justice and human impacts are top of mind as we tackle these tough issues.

After nearly a decade at the EPA, I know firsthand the remarkable dedication and talent of those career staff. And as a state official, I understand how actions from EPA can help or hurt local efforts.

We’re going to ensure that EPA is once again a strong partner for the states, not a roadblock. We will be driven by our convictions that every person in our great country has the right to clean air, clean water and a healthier life, no matter how much money they have in their pockets, the color of their skin or the community that they live in.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Michael Regan, President-elect Biden’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency. He’ll get to work closely with Democratic Congresswoman Deb Haaland of New Mexico, who Biden has tapped to lead the Interior Department, if they are both confirmed.

Well, Deb Haaland is the first Native American Cabinet secretary in history, if in fact the Senate confirms her. She’s a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, co-sponsor of the Green New Deal, who participated in protests against the Dakota Access pipeline at Standing Rock in 2016. The congresswoman would take over the stewardship of about one-fifth of federal lands from the current Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a former energy industry lobbyist.

This is Congressmember Haaland accepting Biden’s nomination for secretary of interior Saturday.

REP. DEB HAALAND: I’m proud to stand here on the ancestral homelands of the Lenape Tribal Nation. The president-elect and vice president-elect are committed to a diverse Cabinet, and I’m honored and humbled to accept their nomination for secretary of the interior.

Growing up in my mother’s Pueblo household made me fierce. My life has not been easy. I struggled with homelessness. I relied on food stamps and raised my child as a single mom. These struggles give me perspectives, though, so that I can help people to succeed.

My grandparents, who were taken away from their families as children and sent to boarding school in an effort to destroy their traditions and identities, maintained our culture. This moment is profound when we consider the fact that a former secretary of the interior once proclaimed his goal to, quote, “civilize or exterminate” us. I’m a living testament to the failure of that horrific ideology.

I also stand on the shoulders of my ancestors and all the people who have sacrificed so that I can be here. My dad was a U.S. marine, and no matter where we were stationed, he made sure we spent time outdoors. Time with my dad in the mountains or on the beach and time with my grandparents in the cornfield at Laguna taught me to respect the Earth and to value our resources. I carry those values with me everywhere. I am a product of their resilience.

As our country faces the impacts of climate change and environmental injustice, the Interior Department has a role to address these challenges. The president-elect’s goals, driven by justice and empowering communities who have shouldered the burdens of environmental negligence. And we will ensure that the decisions at Interior will once again be driven by science. We know that climate change can only be solved with participation of every department and of every community coming together in a common purpose. This country can and will tackle this challenge.

The president-elect and vice president-elect know that issues under Interior’s jurisdiction aren’t simply about conservation. They’re woven in with justice, good jobs and closing the racial, wealth and health gaps.

This historic moment will not go by without the acknowledgment of the many people who have believed in me over the years and had the confidence in me for this position. I’ll be fierce for all of us, for our planet and all of our protected land. And I’m honored and ready to serve. Thank you again.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s New Mexico Congressmember Deb Haaland, Biden’s pick to head the Interior Department. She would be the first Native American Cabinet member in history, if approved.

Meanwhile, longtime environmental attorney Brenda Mallory will chair Biden’s Council on Environmental Quality. This is Mallory accepting the position.

BRENDA MALLORY: I am honored and humbled by the trust you’ve placed in me, and I look forward to getting to work with this incredible team. …

I know firsthand the challenges that everyday people face when one unexpected illness or expense can upend the economic stability of a family.

I grew up in the working-class community of Waterbury, Connecticut, a town not so different from Scranton, Pennsylvania. I know the faces of the marginalized, and I appreciate the challenges of urban pollution. While the words “climate change” and “environmental injustice” were not part of the vernacular back then, the evidence of their impacts was all around. In that setting, there was plenty of opportunity to work to make a difference in people’s lives.

For my parents, and particularly my father, dedication to tackling community challenges was vitally important. Service, in all its forms, was essential. They taught me to be a problem solver, to recognize that each of us is blessed with different talents, and we are all called to bring those gifts to bear in whatever — wherever we are, to work with anyone and everyone to make things better in communities that we share. This has been the driving force and the guiding principle on my journey.

I earned a high school scholarship that changed the course of my life. I became the first person in my family to go to college. I attended law school. And at each stage, I was aware of how different the world I came from was from the one I was entering.

I didn’t set out to specialize in environmental issues, but once I started, I was always mindful of the practical implications of the decisions. As a staffer at the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights, I learned that environmental protection and ensuring the health and well-being of all communities had to be reconciled. It is essential that we deploy smart and humane policy to help communities pull themselves back from the edge and improve the health, security and prosperity of all people.

The Build Back Better plan is poised to breathe new life into the Council on Environmental Quality. CEQ will work with a broad range of partners on a broad range of issues, tackle the full breadth of climate change, preserve the natural treasures of our nation, center environmental justice and help more communities overcome legacy environmental impacts.

I am grateful to the president-elect and the vice president-elect for elevating this work and lifting up the communities where it will make the most difference.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s longtime environmental attorney Brenda Mallory. If confirmed, she will chair Biden’s Council on Environmental Quality.

This is Gina McCarthy, who served as head of the EPA under President Obama. She’ll now head up a new White House Office of Climate Policy.

GINA McCARTHY: All I can think of is back when I was in grammar school and the nuns used to jump up and say, “Run! Close the windows in your classrooms,” because when the rubber factory across the street started to spew chemical stenches into the air, it would come wafting into our classroom. And that smell kept us from recess more days than I or my teacher ever cared to remember.

So I figured out early there was just an intrinsic connection between our environment and our health. And that understanding drew me into a very long career of public service, which I will never regret and always cherish. And I did it because I was trying to help families and communities just like mine and those who are facing certainly much steeper and more insidious legacies of environmental harm, so they could overcome the challenges that were holding them back.

Environmental protection is part of my moral fiber. It’s what I live for. And I’m proud of the progress that we’ve made across the United States. And I’m proud of the work that I did for many years at local and state governments, as well as at EPA, to make sure our air and water were cleaner, to make communities safer and more livable, and begin to confront the crisis of climate change.

And I’m here today because climate change is not only a threat to the planet, it is a threat to our health and our well-being. It’s a threat to people everywhere and the precious natural resources that we depend on. Defeating this threat is the fight of our lifetimes.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Gina McCarthy, who will serve as head of a new White House Office of Climate Policy. Her deputy national climate adviser will be Pakistani American Ali Zaidi, who’s currently the deputy secretary for energy and environment for the state of New York.

ALI ZAIDI: I am deeply honored to answer your call to serve this nation that I love, especially at this moment of consequence. For our planet and for the people who live here, the peril of the climate crisis is already evident. But we can also see the promise in the jobs — casting and machining, installing and rewiring, pouring new foundations and building new industries — and in the possibility of repairing communities hurt, places where pollution has been heavy and opportunity has never quite reached.

Mr. President-elect and Madam Vice President-elect, you campaigned on delivering that promise by mounting a response equal to the existential threat that we face, not only by listening to the science, but also by invigorating the economy, revving up manufacturing and innovation, spurring good-paying union jobs and advancing justice, long overdue — leading by the example of America at its best.

When my parents moved from Pakistan to Pennsylvania, they brought two little kids and a few suitcases of dreams, dreams their kids are living today — Danish, my brother, a doctor on the frontlines of the COVID crisis, and me, moving to frontlines of the fight against climate change. To be healthy, to have purpose, to be able to give back — that is how our parents taught us to define the American dream.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Biden’s incoming deputy national climate adviser, Ali Zaidi. In another major move announced Saturday, President-elect Biden said his climate team will include former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, who he’s nominated to be energy secretary. If confirmed, she’ll play a key role in helping to fulfill Biden’s pledge to move the United States off fossil fuel.

JENNIFER GRANHOLM: My commitment to clean energy was forged in the fire.

I was the governor of Michigan, as the president-elect said, during the Great Recession, when it struck and pushed our auto industry, which is the lifeblood of Michigan, to the brink of utter collapse. Workers were losing their jobs through no fault of their own. Banks wouldn’t lend. People were losing their houses. Our unemployment rate in Michigan was 15%. In Detroit, it was 28%.

But then, thankfully, as now, help was on the way. Joe Biden and the Obama administration worked with us to rescue the auto industry and the million jobs that are attached to it. They worked with us to retool and electrify Detroit for the future, of course, and to diversify Michigan’s economy on the premise of this promising future in clean energy.

So, today, in the midst of another harrowing crisis, clean energy remains among the most promising jobs and economic growth sector in the world. Over the next two decades, countries and companies are going to invest trillions — trillions, not just billions — trillions in electric cars, in batteries, in wind turbines, in solar panels, and energy-efficient appliances and energy-efficient buildings. They’re going to upgrade their electric grids using smart technology.

Millions of good-paying jobs are going to be created. Millions. But where? Where will those jobs be? Are they going to be in China or in the other countries that are fighting tooth and nail to corner the market on this hopeful electric and clean energy future? Or are those jobs going to be here in America?

The path to building back better starts with building and manufacturing and deploying those products here, stamping them “Made in America” and exporting them around the world. We can win those jobs for American workers with the right policy. We can.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s energy secretary nominee Jennifer Granholm, who then talked about why jobs were so important to her by talking about her family’s history.

JENNIFER GRANHOLM: My dad was was born in rural Canada in a log cabin with no running water, into extreme poverty. His father, my grandfather, emigrated to Canada when — from Sweden during the Great Depression, again, seeking opportunity. But when my grandfather could not find a job to support his young family, in desperation, my grandfather shot himself, leaving my grandmother and three young children in dire poverty.

My father was 3 years old when that happened. And when he was 11, my dad found work at a sawmill. And he never stopped working. He married my mom. They came to America for work. And despite not having a college degree, my hard-working, gentle father got the fair chance that he was looking for in America. He had started out as a bank teller, and he retired as head of the bank.

And it’s because of my family’s journey and my experience in fighting for hard-working Michigan families that I have become obsessed — obsessed with creating good-paying jobs in America.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, who President-elect Biden has tapped as his incoming energy secretary.

When we come back, we’ll speak to former EPA official Mustafa Santiago Ali. He resigned in 2017 from the EPA to protest Trump administration policies. Stay with us.

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