Biden sets new pace in climate race

Armed with slim majority in the Senate, Biden may soon challenge Canada to keep up on climate policies

Photo by Gage Skidmore

While running for the U.S. presidency, Joe Biden championed climate action and promoted a US$2-trillion “Build Back Better” action plan. As president-elect, Biden showed he means business by naming a tough, experienced team to bring a climate lens to transition challenges – not just in Energy and related departments, but also in Defense, Treasury and Justice.

After four years of Donald Trump’s coal and fracking cronies, U.S. environmental groups were elated that progressive, professional experts were taking back government.

Sure, there was a jolt of concern in mid-November when Biden appointed Louisiana Congressman Cedric Richmond as incoming director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, with special responsibility for climate issues and the pandemic. The 12-year congressman earned a reputation as a climate conservative, supporting fossil-fuel exports and offshore drilling while opposing efforts to tighten regulations on fracking and the disposal of toxic coal ash.

But Biden went on to make better choices. In December, he appointed former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Gina McCarthy, a key architect of the Paris Agreement, to run a new White House office on climate change. As president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, McCarthy sued the Trump administration more than 100 times over its attempts to ease environmental regulations.

And then there’s Michael Regan, Biden’s popular pick as the new EPA head. Regan began his career as an air-quality specialist with the EPA. He then spent eight years at the Environmental Defense Fund, an advocacy organization best known for championing early bans on whaling, leaded gasoline and hazardous chemicals such as CFCs.

For the past four years, Regan was an activist secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. Inheriting a dispirited department that was defanged by a previous Republican administration (sound familiar?), Regan tightened regulations and signed significant mitigation deals with chemical and energy companies. “Michael Regan will be exactly the kind of administrator that the EPA needs to fix the damage that was done under four years of Trump and tackle the climate and health crisis facing Americans,” said Jeremy Symons, an environmental consultant who worked with Regan at Environmental Defense.

As the first Black person to run the EPA, Regan will also focus on environmental and economic justice. On his appointment he announced, “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.”

Given the Trump-inspired insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, this message can't can’t be emphasized enough. A divided America needs healing. A job-creating green revolution will boost the economy, put the U.S. on a more sustainable track and promote social justice.

Canadians accustomed to the Trudeau Liberals’ lukewarm embrace of climate policies have spent four years worrying about America’s rejection of the environmental crisis. Now, armed with a committed cabinet and an unexpected (albeit slim) majority in the Senate, the 78-year-old Biden may soon challenge Canada to keep up.

Rick Spence is a business writer, speaker and consultant in Toronto specializing in entrepreneurship, innovation and growth. He is also a senior editor at Corporate Knights.

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