Gina McCarthy, Biden's new pick to lead his climate team, testifying before a court
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy testifies before a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing in Washington, Thursday, March 17, 2016, to look into the circumstances surrounding high levels of lead found in many residents' tap water in Flint, Michigan. McCarthy is President-elect Joe Biden's pick to lead his new climate team. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Biden’s climate plans are ambitious, and his new team has a lot of work to do. If the US is to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the nation will need to build an enormous amount of new energy infrastructure by 2030, according to a new study.

President-elect Joe Biden plans to announce key members of his climate, energy, and environment teams this week, setting the stage for an administration he has said will be laser-focused on fighting climate change. 

Biden is expected to name Gina McCarthy, a former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as his senior adviser on climate change. Jennifer Granholm, a former governor of Michigan, is the expected pick for Secretary of the Department of Energy. On Tuesday, Biden named former South Bend, Ind., Mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg as Transportation Secretary. Biden has previously also named former Secretary of State John Kerry as his climate envoy, serving as McCarthy’s international counterpart.

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Biden has not yet chosen someone to lead the EPA, perhaps the most critical climate-related position in the entire administration. However, reports indicate he is close to nominating Michael Regan, the head of North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality, to the position. Overall, the president-elect’s choices signal that he is committed to pushing an ambitious plan to combat climate change. 

During his campaign, Biden pledged to spend $2 trillion over four years on climate-resilient infrastructure, create millions of new jobs, and rebuild the American economy. Biden also promised he would work to reach a 100% clean energy economy and net-zero carbon emissions no later than 2050. Now, the team tasked with seeing that through is falling into place. 

In her new role, McCarthy, who currently serves as president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), will be charged with working across federal agencies to spearhead the national effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the key driver of climate change. 

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They won’t have much time to act, either. If the US is to seriously address climate change and eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the nation will need to build an enormous amount of new energy infrastructure by 2030, according to a new study from a team of energy experts at Princeton University. Other recent research has also found that the US needs to ramp up its efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and invest in renewable energy to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

During her time at the EPA, McCarthy oversaw President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan—the first significant nationwide effort to reduce carbon emissions from power plants— before the Supreme Court blocked it. She also worked to advance rules to increase fuel efficiency in vehicles and limit mercury emissions from power plants and methane leaks from oil and gas wells. The Trump administration previously repealed or rolled back such efforts. McCarthy also served as commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection from 2004 to 2009, where she worked to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Biden’s choice of McCarthy quickly earned praise from various climate and environmental organizations such as the League of Conservation Voters as well as activists and scholars.

“McCarthy is a doer: we see this in her invaluable expertise in the field, her track record of pushing against fossil fuel dependency, and her role in developing the Clean Power Plan and rules to increase fuel efficiency in automobiles during the Obama Administration,” Natalie Mebane, associate director of policy at 350.org, a grassroots movement working to end the age of fossil fuels, said in a statement on the organization’s website.” We look forward to working with her to forge a pathway to completely phase out fossil fuels.”

Former vice president Al Gore, a longtime environmental activist, also heaped praise on McCarthy. Gore told the New York Times that she was “uniquely suited for the job” and that Biden’s appointments affirm that he is “serious about America leading by example and driving deep reductions in pollution and climate emissions.”

“A new era of climate accountability is upon us,” Gore told the Times. “The US is back on task.”

McCarthy has also previously stated that tackling climate change goes hand-in-hand with addressing other key issues facing the country, such as the collapsing economy and racial injustice. “We need a climate response that’s grounded in sound science, puts people back to work, and expands protections and opportunities for low-income communities and people of color,” she wrote in a November NRDC blog post.

McCarthy’s position will not require Senate confirmation, but Granholm’s role as Energy Secretary will. In that position, Granholm would oversee the nation’s nuclear weapons, research laboratories, and a broad range of energy projects and research efforts. Granholm, who has pushed for renewable energy development, also has ties to the automobile industry owing to her time as Michigan governor, which could come in handy as Biden calls for carmakers to transition to electric vehicles.

“Granholm has a long history supporting a just transition to a renewable energy economy. She supported clean energy initiatives in her two terms as Governor and strived to diversify Michigan’s economy, including urging the production of more electric vehicles while moving away from fossil fuels toward solar and wind,” Mebane said. 

Meanwhile, Buttigieg will oversee a department leading efforts for the widespread adoption of electric vehicles and setting tougher regulations on automobile emissions. The Princeton researchers concluded that at least 50% of new cars sold in 2030 would need to be battery-powered if the US is to stay on pace to reach zero emissions by 2050. Currently, only 2% of new car sales are of electric vehicles.

The Department of Transportation also oversees infrastructure projects and planning, meaning it could play a critical role in Biden’s desire to transform the nation’s roads and bridges to make them resilient to floods, hurricanes, wildfires, and other consequences of climate change.

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