President-elect Joe Biden has tapped Gina McCarthy as his domestic climate czar, tasking the Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency chief with overseeing the new administration’s sweeping plans to overhaul the nation’s energy, agriculture and transportation systems and prepare for the hotter world to come.
McCarthy, 66, served as a chief architect of the Obama administration’s climate regulations, overseeing the drafting and passage of landmark limits on planet-heating pollution from power plants, vehicles and fossil fuel producers. Following a stint as a professor at Harvard University, she became the president and chief executive of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a lion in the environmental advocacy sphere that has sued the Trump administration more than 100 times to block environmental rollbacks, in January.
If confirmed by the Senate, McCarthy would serve as a domestic-side counterpart to John Kerry, the former secretary of state who, as Biden’s special envoy on climate, will oversee a 180-degree turn in U.S. diplomacy on such matters as rejoining the Paris climate accords and working with other nations to curb fossil-fuel emissions that are warming the planet.
McCarthy is widely respected in the environmental world and has inspired fierce loyalty among those who worked under her at the EPA. The Massachusetts native, with a thick Boston accent, worked in five Massachusetts Democratic and Republican administrations and served as commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection before joining the EPA in 2009. President Barack Obama named her EPA administrator in 2013, a position she held until President Donald Trump took office in 2017.
While Kerry will also advise the National Security Council on climate issues, McCarthy’s work will ostensibly respond to those warnings with long-overdue policy decisions that could shape the nation’s physical contours for generations to come. The reach and success of such efforts, though, may depend on whether Democrats can gain control of the Senate by winning next month’s runoffs for Georgia’s two seats. If not, the Senate’s GOP majority almost assuredly will work to thwart the administration’s environmental agenda.
By selecting McCarthy, Biden appears to be preparing to implement his climate agenda through executive fiat and regulations.
“This a real hands-on, butt-in-chair job,” David Goldwyn, president of the energy consultancy Goldwyn Global Strategies and a former White House special energy envoy, told HuffPost. “It requires a Ph.D. in bureaucratic management.” The priorities, he said, will be making good on Biden’s plan to eliminate power plant emissions by 2035 and transition to a carbon-neutral economy by 2050.
Biden vowed a whole-of-government approach to curbing emissions and adapting the nation’s economy to that goal, rather than siloing the mission to the EPA, Interior Department and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The climate czar position is envisioned as the central coordinator in this approach..
“Gina McCarthy’s experience and perspective make her the right person to drive the whole government’s mobilization on climate,” Jamal Raad, campaign director of the climate group Evergreen Action, said in a statement. “Now it’s all hands on deck to defeat the climate crisis and rebuild a better economy.”