United States President-elect Joe Biden has officially introduced several key cabinet nominees that he says will help his incoming administration tackle the climate crisis, including the country’s first Native American cabinet secretary nominee.
In a news conference on Saturday afternoon, Biden said the members of his climate team – including the interior secretary nominee, Deb Haaland, a congresswoman from New Mexico and member of the Laguna Pueblo tribe – were “brilliant, qualified, tested and … barrier-busting”.
“Today I am pleased to announce a team that will lead my administration’s ambitious plan to address the existential threat of our time: climate change,” Biden said.
“Folks, we’re in a crisis,” he added. “Just like we need to be [a] unified nation that responds to COVID-19, we need a unified national response to climate change. We need to meet the moment with the urgency it demands, as we would during any national emergency.”
If confirmed, Haaland would be the first Native American cabinet secretary and the first Native American to lead the interior department.
A voice like mine has never been a Cabinet secretary or at the head of the Department of Interior.
Growing up in my mother’s Pueblo household made me fierce. I’ll be fierce for all of us, our planet, and all of our protected land.
I am honored and ready to serve.
— Deb Haaland (@DebHaalandNM) December 18, 2020
“She’ll be a true steward of our national parks, our natural resources and all of our lands,” Biden said about the nomination of Haaland, one of the first two Native American women ever elected to the US Congress in 2018.
“The federal government has long broken promises to Native American tribes who have been on this land since time immemorial. With her appointment, Congresswoman Haaland will help me strengthen the nation-to-nation relationship.”
Haaland said on Saturday that she was honoured to accept the nomination. “I’ll be fierce for all of us – for our planet and for all of our protected land – and I’m honoured and ready to serve,” she said.
Biden has promised to urgently tackle climate change and put stronger environmental protections in place, as President Donald Trump’s administration has been widely criticised for its policies on the environment.
Last month, the US formally exited the Paris climate agreement, fulfilling a promise Trump made in 2017 to withdraw from the multilateral accord that he said was hurting the American economy.
Environmental groups have also slammed the Trump administration for relaxing domestic environmental protections, including opening up key wildlife areas to oil and gas exploration, and trying to undercut the work of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Antha Williams, global head of climate and environment at Bloomberg Philanthropies, told Al Jazeera earlier this month that Trump’s environmental record has been “abysmal”.
“It really has been the fox guarding the henhouse: putting a former coal industry lobbyist as head of the EPA defies common sense and the EPA mission,” she said, referring to Andrew Wheeler’s stewardship of the agency under Trump.
Biden has promised to overturn several of the incumbent’s policies, including cancelling a contentious oil pipeline project with Canada that Trump approved through a presidential order signed last year.
“These aren’t pie-in-the-sky dreams,” he said about his plan. “These are concrete, actionable solutions – and the team’s going to get it done.”
On Saturday, Biden also formally announced the nomination of Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm to be his secretary of energy and Michael Regan, North Carolina’s top environmental regulator, to head the EPA.
If confirmed, Regan would be the first African American man to run the EPA, the Reuters news agency reported.
Regan said on Saturday that his nomination was “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,” he said.
Biden also nominated Brenda Mallory, a former EPA lawyer, to chair the Council on Environmental Quality, and he appointed Gina McCarthy to serve as his climate adviser and Ali Zaidi to act as McCarthy’s deputy.