‘Folks, we’re in crisis’: Joe Biden introduces environmental advisers

President-elect Joe Biden announced a racially diverse slate of environmental advisers on Saturday, to help his administration confront what he called “the existential threat of our time, climate change”.

Biden touted his selection of Deb Haaland as the first Native American secretary of the interior, which has wielded influence over the nation’s tribes for generations.

North Carolina official Michael Regan is slated to be the first African American man to run the Environmental Protection Agency. A state environmental head since 2017, he has made his name pursuing clean-ups of industrial toxins and helping low-income and minority communities significantly affected by pollution.

“Already there are more people of color in our cabinet than any cabinet ever,” Biden said. Six members of his proposed cabinet are African American.

His commitment to diverse picks including a record number of women, he said, “opens doors and includes the full range of talents that we have in this nation”.

“We literally have no time to waste,” Biden told reporters in Wilmington, Delaware, citing out-of-control wildfires that have devastated the western states, tropical storms that “pummelled” the south, and record floods and droughts that have ravaged the agricultural midwest.

“Folks, we’re in a crisis,” Biden said. “Just like we need a unified national response 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.”

Haaland, who has struggled with homelessness and relied on food stamps at one point, said her life has not been easy. “This moment is profound when we consider the fact that a former secretary of the interior once proclaimed his goal, was to quote, ‘civilize or exterminate’ us,” Haaland said, referring to Alexander H H Stuart, who said that in 1851. “I’m a living testament to the failure of that horrific ideology.”

Biden’s approach is a shift from that of Donald Trump, whose presidency has been marked by efforts to boost oil and gas production while rolling back government measures intended to safeguard the environment. The Trump administration is seeking to start as many initiatives as possible before Biden takes power.

Biden, who has said he will seek US re-entry into the Paris climate deal, from which Trump withdrew, will therefore try to undo or block as much of Trump’s work as possible. There also will be an emphasis on looking out for low-income, working class and minority communities hit hardest by fossil fuel pollution and climate change.

Biden called his team “brilliant, qualified, tested and barrier-busting”.

The former two-term Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm is in line to be energy secretary. Biden’s nominee to head the Council on Environmental Quality is Brenda Mallory. The CEQ oversees environmental reviews for virtually all major infrastructure projects and advises the president on major environmental issues. If confirmed, Mallory would be the first African American to hold the position since it was created more than 50 years ago.

Two members of the team do not require Senate confirmation. They are Gina McCarthy, as national climate adviser, and Ali Zaidi, her deputy. McCarthy was EPA administrator from 2013 to 2017, during Barack Obama’s second term.

Biden has promised to make tackling the climate crisis one of the pillars of his administration. But with a slim majority in the House of Representatives and control of the Senate undecided, he and his team may have to turn away from Congress and instead rely on rules from regulatory agencies to enact sweeping change.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report