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President Biden is switching up his climate team at the White House.
On Friday, Biden announced his national climate adviser, Gina McCarthy, will step down. Her deputy, Ali Zaidi, will move into her role. And John Podesta, a chief of staff for former President Bill Clinton and a climate adviser to former President Barack Obama, will join the team to oversee the implementation of the recently passed $369 billion in climate-related incentives and funding in the Inflation Reduction Act.
Climate advocates cheered the move. “The good news is that the White House at the highest levels seems determined to ensure that this historic once-in-a-generation investment will not be squandered,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group.
“Typically past administrations would simply count on the agencies to make these investments without a lot of White House scrutiny. This is different,” Faber said.
Zaidi brings state experience to the table
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Zaidi, who will be Biden’s national climate adviser, worked on the issue in the Obama White House, and then moved to work on climate policy at the state level in New York. He helped the Biden team craft his climate plans during the campaign.
On the NPR Politics Podcast this week, Zaidi said the administration is counting on the investments and incentives in the new law to boost manufacturing and deployment of clean energy to the point where developments cannot be rolled back by the next administration to come into office.
“No one’s going back and taking solar panels and wind turbines out of the ground and replacing it with dirty energy,” Zaidi said.
Lisa Frank, executive director of the Washington legislative office of Environment America, said Zaidi’s state experience will help the administration get its new programs up and running.
“What Ali brings to the table that is really great is his background working at the state level,” Frank said. “Even with this big legislative victory, that’s still going to be the case. States are still where kind of much of the rubber will hit the road on these policies.”
Podesta helped craft executive actions in the Obama White House
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The switch in leadership also comes as green and environmental groups continue to push Biden for aggressive executive action on climate and conservation.
“We’ve already got executive actions that are coming down the pike,” Zaidi told NPR, highlighting another round of methane emission standards coming this fall.
Podesta advised Obama to make greater use of his executive powers when he joined that White House at a time when Congress was controlled by Republicans.
Earlier this summer, however, the US Supreme Court ruled that the EPA doesn’t have the authority to regulate the carbon emissions of power plants, pausing Obama-era rules that never went into effect and setting back some of the Biden administration’s plans.
Podesta is a Washington veteran who has worked in two White Houses. He chaired Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president in 2016. Earlier, he served as chief counsel for the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Podesta will focus on implementing the climate actions in the Inflation Reduction Act. Energy and climate advocates are hoping that Podesta will have a strong hand.
“John Podesta, former White House chief of staff, is a deep expert and in this role, really sends a powerful signal that there will be lots and lots of scrutiny,” Faber said. “And so everything we’re hearing and including this announcement demonstrates that this is an administration that recognizes that there won’t be a do-over. We have to make every dollar count if we want to avoid a climate catastrophe.”
Biden also nominated a new regulatory czar, who could also play a big role on climate
The White House also announced on Friday that Biden would nominate Richard Revesz to a powerful regulatory job in its budget office: the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA).
Revesz, a law professor at New York University, specializes in environmental and regulatory law. If confirmed by the Senate to lead OIRA, he would have a key role in the oversight of executive climate action.