Biden’s Climate Agenda: Who You Need to Know

Biden has selected an unprecedented number of climate experts to top White House positions, created new climate agencies and Cabinet-level positions, and elevated the issue across departments.

Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM), a member of the Laguna Pueblo people, has been chosen to head the Interior Department (Photo: Chip Somodevilla)

President Joe Biden has vowed to combat climate change with a $1.7 trillion climate plan aimed at fighting what he calls the “existential threat of our time” while promising millions of jobs to put Americans back to work. Biden has called for a unified response with an “all hands on deck” approach meant to mobilize his entire administration in a strategic, coordinated way.

As part of his strategy, Biden has selected an unprecedented number of climate experts to top White House positions, created new climate agencies and Cabinet-level positions, and elevated the issue across departments.  To help journalists report on the Biden administration’s climate plans, Covering Climate Now has compiled a list of top officials you need to know, with information, where available, to second-tier personnel and aides. Be sure to click through to these lists, as they are the insiders that will help you most in your reporting.

As we write this, new appointments are being unveiled, confirmation hearings are underway and government websites are being updated. In other words, this document is a work in progress. We will continue to update it, so be sure to check back for new information. We’re also in the process of creating a Biden Climate Team twitter list to help you easily follow members of the administration. Please feel free to email us with any thoughts, comments or questions.

Top Climate & Climate-related Positions

Pete Buttigieg
Secretary of Transportation
Pete Buttigieg, a former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is the head of the Transportation Department, which oversees the nation’s airlines, highways, and transit systems — America’s leading source of greenhouse gas emissions. He is the first openly gay person to serve in a Cabinet position.

Xavier Becerra
Secretary of Health and Human Services

Xavier Becerra, the attorney general of California, is tapped to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. He previously served 12 terms as a U.S. House member, representing Central Los Angeles. If confirmed, Becerra would be the first Latino U.S. health secretary and would lead a proposed Office of Climate Change and Health Equity.

Brian Deese
Director of the National Economic Council
Brian Deese, the former head of sustainable investing at BlackRock, is head of the White House National Economic Council. Deese recently said that Biden’s economic recovery strategy puts solving the climate crisis at the center of job creation. During the Obama administration, Deese served as deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget and the National Economic Council, and as a senior climate and energy adviser to the president.

Merrick Garland
Attorney General
Merrick Garland, who’s nomination by President Obama to the Supreme Court in 2016 was derailed by Senate Republicans, is Biden’s choice to head the Department of Justice. The department includes the Environment and Natural Resources Division, which enforces environmental laws and defends government actions related to climate change and the environment. Garland currently is a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, a position he has held since 1997.

Rich Glick
Chair of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
Rich Glick, a Democratic who was appointed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by President Trump in 2017, will now serve as its chair. The commission, which oversees electric grid, natural gas pipelines and other energy infrastructure, will not have a Democratic majority until after June 30. Glick is expected to make a cleaner electric grid a top priority. See members of Glick’s staff.

Jennifer Granholm
Secretary of Energy
Jennifer Granholm, who served two terms as Michigan’s governor from 2003 to 2011, is tapped to run the Energy Department. A champion of electric vehicles, she worked closely with the Obama administration on the 2009 bailout of automobile manufacturers. If confirmed, she is expected to play a key role in the department’s support of advanced batteries, energy efficiency, and electricity generation from renewable and nuclear power. See key members of the Energy Department’s team (Make sure you click this!)

Deb Haaland
Secretary of the Interior

Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM), a member of the Laguna Pueblo people, has been chosen to head the Interior Department, the agency that oversees the country’s natural resources and public and tribal lands. If confirmed she will be the first Native American to lead the agency and the first Native American cabinet secretary in U.S. history. Haaland serves on the House Natural Resources Committee and is a former chair of the Democratic Party of New Mexico.  See key members of the Interior Department’s team. (Make sure you click this!)

David Hayes
Special Assistant to the President for Climate Policy
David Hayes is special assistant to the president for climate policy. Hayes has led the NYU Law’s State Impact Center, which supports state attorneys general in their advocacy for clean energy and climate and environmental laws and policies, since 2017. He previously served as Deputy Interior Secretary during the Obama and Clinton administrations.

John Kerry
Special Presidential Envoy for Climate
John Kerry, the former Massachusetts state senator and US secretary of state under President Barack Obama, is the special presidential envoy for climate, a newly created Cabinet-level position. He has a seat on the National Security Council, marking the first time an official focused on climate is included. Kerry helped craft the 2015 Paris climate accord and will be responsible for leading climate negotiations internationally.

Several additions to Kerry’s team are expected to be announced shortly, according to The New York Times. They include Jonathan Pershing, Sue Biniaz, and Leonardo Martinez-Diaz.

Eric Lander
Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy
Eric Lander, a geneticist, has been selected as director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, a new Cabinet-level position. Lander is a Harvard and MIT professor who helped lead the Human Genome Project and served on President Obama’s council of science advisors. If confirmed, Lander is expected to assess how science and technology can create new solutions to address climate change.

Brenda Mallory
Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality
Brenda Mallory, director of regulatory policy at the Southern Environmental Law Center, has been tapped to head the Council for Environmental Quality. If confirmed, she will oversee the environmental impacts of federal infrastructure projects. Mallory served as the General Counsel for the White House Council on Environmental Quality for  Obama and has several years experience working for the EPA.

Jeff Marootian
Special Assistant to President for Climate & Science Agency Personnel

Jeff Marootian, who previously led Washington, D.C’s, transportation department, is Biden’s special assistant for climate and science agency personnel. Marootian was assistant secretary for administration at the U.S. Transportation Department during the Obama administration.

Cecilia Martinez
Senior Director for Environmental Justice, CEQ

Cecilia Martinez, co-founder of the Minneapolis-based Center for Earth, Energy, and Democracy, is senior director for environmental justice at the Council on Environmental Quality. An advocate for addressing racial inequality in environmental policies, she is expected to play a key role in tackling pollution disparities.

Gina McCarthy
White House National Climate Adviser
Gina McCarthy is head of the new White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy and serves as the first-ever National Climate Adviser.  She previously served as president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council. As a former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, she oversaw President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. McCarthy will be responsible for implementing Biden’s initiative to integrate climate policy throughout the federal government.

Michael Regan
Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
MichaelRegan, who currently serves as North Carolina’s top environmental regulator, has been selected to head the Environmental Protection Agency. If confirmed, he will be the first Black man to run the agency and is expected to play a key role in addressing environmental racism. Regan previously served at the EPA during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.  See key members of the EPA’s team. (Make sure you click this!)

Maggie Thomas
Chief of Staff, Office of Domestic Climate Policy
Maggie Thomas, the former political director of the nonprofit Evergreen Action, is chief of staff for the Office of Domestic Climate Policy.  During the 2020 presidential primary, she served in climate adviser roles in the presidential campaigns of Washington State Governor Jay Inslee and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

Jahi Wise
Senior Adviser for Climate Policy and Finance
Jahi Wise is a senior adviser for climate policy and finance. He previously served as policy director for the Coalition for Green Capital, a nonprofit that aims to drive investment in clean energy. He was a policy volunteer to the Biden campaign.

Tom Vilsack
Secretary of Agriculture
Tom Vilsack, who headed the Department of Agriculture under President Obama throughout his term, has been nominated for the job once again.  A former governor of Iowa, Vilsack has said he will quickly ramp up USDA programs to combat climate change. Vilsack currently serves as president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

Janet Yellen
Secretary of the Treasury
Janet Yellen has been confirmed Secretary of the Treasury, and will be the first woman to hold the position. During her confirmation hearings, Yellen pledged to create a team to focus on climate change, including an assessment of risks it poses to the financial system and tax policy incentives to address it. She previously served as chair of the Federal Reserve from 2014 to 2018.

Ali Zaidi
White House Deputy National Climate Adviser
Ali Zaidi, a former top energy official in the White House Office of Management and Budget under President Obama, is the deputy national climate advisor. Zaidi is responsible for advising the president on domestic climate change policy and will also lead the Office of Domestic Climate Change Policy.