Jan 8, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Energy implications of Biden's latest Cabinet picks

Marty Walsh, Gina Raimondo, Merrick Garland (from l to r). Getty Images photos: Paul Morigi, Paul Marotta, and Chip Somodevilla
Marty Walsh, Gina Raimondo, Merrick Garland (from L to R). Photos: Paul Morigi, Paul Marotta, and Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden's final burst of Cabinet picks could have important roles to play in the new administration's climate change and energy agenda.

Driving the news: Biden plans to nominate Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo for Commerce, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh for Labor, and Judge Merrick Garland for attorney general.

Why it matters: Biden's team is planning a whole-of-government push that extends well beyond the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Interior and Energy departments, which are the agencies most closely involved with energy and climate policy.

The Commerce Department's activities include trade missions that aim to link U.S. firms with markets abroad.

  • Biden's transition team yesterday said Raimondo would position the U.S. as an "exporter of 21st-century products and leader in the clean energy economy."
  • Advice for how to bolster Commerce's role is already pouring in. For instance, the group Evergreen Action last night called for Commerce to take a more muscular role in boosting domestic manufacturing of materials needed for low-carbon energy projects.

Commerce also works with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative on trade policy.

  • Biden's platform says future trade agreements should be conditioned on parties meeting their pledges under the Paris climate deal.
  • Biden also wants "carbon adjustment fees or quotas on carbon-intensive goods from countries that are failing to meet their climate and environmental obligations." This is a longstanding idea to prevent domestic emissions restrictions from handing a competitive advantage to other countries.

Yes, but: The details are pretty hazy right now, and it's not clear how much running room Biden has without buy-in from Congress. His transition team did not provide immediate comment on that topic last night.

The Justice Department plays a vital role with EPA in bringing environmental enforcement cases via its Environment and Natural Resources Division.

  • Biden is also vowing to create a new "Environmental and Climate Justice Division" at DOJ that would "complement" ENRD.
  • It would focus on environmental justice — that is, addressing the higher pollution burdens that poor people and communities of color often face.
  • Also, the agenda would include, per Biden's campaign platform, "strategically" supporting "ongoing plaintiff-driven climate litigation against polluters."

The Labor Department overlaps with energy via job training programs, data collection and more.

  • Yesterday, in announcing the Walsh pick, the transition team said he "knows that we can create good-paying union jobs by investing in clean energy."
  • Evergreen, the group launched by former campaign aides to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), yesterday floated several ideas for Labor.
  • Their suggestions range from initiatives to "ease former fossil fuel workers into the clean economy" to having the agencies better track data on the socio-economic effects of climate change.
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