Jan 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

New Energy Department roles look to animate Biden's campaign themes

Illustration collage of a fist, wind turbine, hard hat, and ocean.
Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The burst of Biden administration staffing picks announced yesterday revealed that the Energy Department (DOE) has newly created roles that reflect what President Biden called campaign priorities.

Driving the news: One new position is "director of energy jobs," which is being filled by Jennifer Jean Kropke. She was previously the first director of workforce and environmental engagement with Local 11 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Another newly created position is "deputy director for energy justice." It's being filled by Shalanda H. Baker, who comes from her job as a Northeastern University law professor. She also co-founded the nonprofit Initiative for Energy Justice.

Why it matters: A pillar of Biden's case for his climate agenda is a fundamentally economic pitch.

  • He's hoping to accelerate job growth in energy-related fields like electric vehicle manufacturing and charging infrastructure, faster deployment of renewables and more.
  • Biden officials also say they'll also focus heavily on environmental justice — addressing the disproportionate pollution burdens often faced by the poor and people of color.

The big picture: They're the latest of several newly created administration positions.

  • The highest level ones, which were announced in December, are John Kerry's gig as special climate envoy and Gina McCarthy, who is leading the new White House climate office. We wrote about her top deputies here.
  • Two more: There's now a senior director for environmental justice at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, a role filled by Cecilia Martinez. And per the White House, associate director for climate, energy, environment and science is a new position within the Office of Management and Budget.

Reality check: Who knows how much all the new bodies will actually translate into tangible outcomes. But they're nonetheless a sign of intent.

What we don't know: The precise outlines and activities of the new DOE roles. DOE spokesman Kevin Liao spoke of the positions in broad terms.

  • "These new positions reflect President Biden’s belief in the job creating potential of bold climate action and the urgent need to act on longstanding environmental injustices in America," he said.
  • Baker's overall views are captured in a WBUR interview posted earlier this week.

Yes, but: Biden's facing immediate criticism that his initial climate policy moves are hurting jobs.

  • Republicans and industry officials and some unions bashed his decision to nix the permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
  • Keystone developer TC Energy said it's cutting more than 1,000 construction jobs in coming weeks, Reuters reports.
  • And oil industry groups criticized yesterday's Interior Department move to freeze permitting for oil-and-gas projects on federal lands.

Bonus: Here are the new staffing lists from EPA, DOE, Interior and the Transportation Department (DOT).

One thing that stands out is that lots of Obama-era names are coming back.

  • For instance, DOE chief of staff Tarak Shah was also at the agency under Obama, while EPA chief of staff Dan Utech was an Obama White House energy and climate aide.
  • Another example is Andrew Light, who has a high-level international affairs role at DOE. He was a senior State Department climate aide under Obama.

The intrigue: With a h/t to E&E News, one of the Transportation picks could signal the administration's intent to set much more aggressive fuel economy rules.

  • Steve Cliff, new deputy administrator of DOT's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, comes from the California Air Resources Board, which focuses heavily on transportation-sector emissions.

Go deeper: Biden's plan to upend Trump's environmental legacy

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