As tens of millions of Americans returned to work yesterday after their Thanksgiving holiday, Trump’s attempts to overturn the election result — which many have called “desperate” and “dangerous” — faced fresh defeats when Wisconsin and Arizona confirmed Biden’s victory.
As Trump’s spurious legal hopes fade and we enter the last few weeks of his Presidency, many are now giving greater scrutiny to Joe Biden’s top personnel picks for his administration.
We know Biden will have his hands full after the disastrous and divisive Trump years, with issues ranging from the raging COVID pandemic, to diplomacy with Iran and China, to climate change and beyond.
But for climate, just returning to the old normal will not be enough. Biden has to be bold. Truly bold. He cannot rollback a few of Trump’s own rollbacks and claim victory. He cannot re-enter the Paris Agreement and leave it there, while at the same time back dirty fracking.
The President-elect has said he will “Build Back Better” from the Pandemic, and that is the name of his transition website. But “Better” has to be “Greener” to the core. And that starts from today, including in top picks for his administration.
Writing in the The Guardian yesterday, Samuel Moyn, a Professor of Law and history at Yale, has warned that Biden’s team of political “insiders” could repeat their old mistakes as regards foreign policies and international engagement, including on climate change. This could lead to a veneer of progress, but a dangerous lack of real structural change. Moyn quotes the aristocratic hero of Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s novel The Leopard (1958), by saying “Everything must change so that everything can remain the same.”
This time, everything has to change for good. Especially on climate. There is literally no second to waste. 2020 is set to be the warmest year on record, and if recent trends are anything to go by, the first year of a Biden Administration will be even warmer still.
Parts of the Arctic averaged up to +14 °C above normal for the entire month of November.
Preliminary data suggesting we witnessed the hottest November globally on record.
2020 is on track to be the hottest year on record.[THREAD] pic.twitter.com/Ww1cvq3wot
— Scott Duncan (@ScottDuncanWX) December 1, 2020
A crisis of this magnitude means we need experts across the Biden Administration who understand our climate emergency. According to the Biden Transition Team, the President-Elect will “choose the most-qualified, most experienced candidates capable of leading on day one” and “looks forward to working in good faith with both parties in Congress to install qualified, experienced leaders.”
Already, there are problems with some of his appointees. One of those is Brian Deese, who served as a senior economic and climate official during President Barack Obama’s administration, and who is expected to return to the White House to head the president-elect’s National Economic Council.
After the Obama Administration, Deese took an executive position within BlackRock, a Wall Street behemoth. As the Washington Post reported earlier today, this trajectory has caused concern amongst environmental groups, as BlackRock, as “the world’s largest asset manager … has significant stakes in many fossil fuel ventures.”
Back in July, the Sunrise Movement sent a letter to the Biden campaign specifically urging it not to consider any BlackRock executives for the administration.
Deese’s BlackRock connection is not the only one worrying civil society. Two months later in September, 145 groups sent a joint letter urging Joe Biden to ban all fossil fuel executives, lobbyists, and representatives from any advisory or official position on his campaign, transition team, cabinet, and administration.
At the time, Collin Rees of Oil Change U.S. said: “Joe Biden can’t address the climate crisis while listening to people taking checks from the fossil fuel industry like Ernest Moniz, Jason Bordoff, Ken Salazar, and Heather Zichal. Biden must act boldly in collaboration with grassroots leaders fighting for environmental and climate justice — which means ruling out positions for dangerous ‘all-of-the-above’ boosters whose time has passed.”
The pressure has also come from activists bankrolling Biden’s campaign. Three weeks later, the New York Times reported that 60 donors to the Democratic party asked Mr. Biden to commit to a moratorium on all new coal, oil and natural gas development — and to select advisers who are “free from fossil fuel influence.” The targets include former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and others who served in the Obama administration, said the Times.
So far, progress has been mixed, but Biden seems to be responding to pressure from the grassroots. Biden has appointed Louisiana congressman Cedric Richmond to be the director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, where he is “meant to help advance the administration’s legislative agenda on climate change”, despite Guardian reporting that Richmond has faced staunch criticism from both local constituents and climate activists due to his “extensive donations from oil, gas and chemical industries, as well as his perceived indifference to local air pollution issues.”
But last month, the Biden-Harris transition team released a Transition Ethics Plan, banning most lobbyists from the transition process and specifically excluded “leaders at fossil fuel companies.” This was welcomed as a significant win by activists, who have continued pushing to ensure this commitment is extended to Biden’s full administration.
One person of concern to both civil society groups and Democratic donors is Ernest Moniz, Obama’s former Energy Secretary. As The Guardian also recently pointed out, Moniz’s multitude of fossil fuel links including being on the board of one of the most polluting power companies in America, the Georgia-based Southern Company. His firm Energy Futures Initiative has also conducted research paid for by Southern California Gas (SoCalGas), and he has a long history of supporting fossil fuel expansion.
Moniz’s star has dimmed recently due to these unsavory ties and public pressure, and he was recently passed over for the international climate envoy position that went to John Kerry instead. But he remains in the mix for an appointment, and provides an excellent example for why fossil fuel representatives should be persona non grata in the Biden administration.
Last week, civil society groups launched a new mobilising campaign against Moniz’s appointment. “Ernest Moniz’s ties to the fossil fuel industry spell danger for the nation’s efforts to mitigate the climate crisis,” argues Greenpeace USA Climate Campaign Director, Janet Redman. “We need a true climate leader who understands that we must phase out fossil fuels, not a corporate shill with ‘all of the above energy’ policies who wants to prop up fracked gas and pipelines.”
In the coming days, weeks, and months Oil Change will work to build on our wins and hold the Biden Administration to account, just like we did with Trump and Obama before. We will be pushing for a radical just transition away from fossil fuels.
Today is so-called “Giving Tuesday”, if you are able to donate to that fight and the wider campaign for climate justice, please go here.