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President-elect Biden. Photo: ALEX EDELMAN / Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden introduced his energy and environment team on Saturday at an event that emphasized job-creation in low-carbon industries and racial justice, but provided no new policy specifics.

Why it matters: Biden has promised to make climate among his top priorities and his team is planning an approach that draws in agencies government-wide.

  • "Folks, we are in a crisis," Biden said at the event. "We need a unified national response to climate change."
  • Biden sought to show that climate change is not a niche topic. His remarks touched on everything from western wildfires to how extreme weather impacts farmers to threats to military installations.
  • However, big climate and energy bills will face high hurdles in Congress, so much of his agenda will rest on executive actions that are certain to face intense legal battles.

Driving the news: Biden appeared with members of the team announced earlier in the week: Rep. Deb Haaland is the nominee for Interior secretary; Michael Regan is up for EPA leader; Brenda Mallory is the choice to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality; and Jennifer Granholm is up for Energy secretary.

  • Perhaps the most powerful domestic climate official will be Gina McCarthy, the Obama-era EPA head that will run a new White House climate office.
  • Saturday's event followed the announcement last month that Biden tapped former Secretary of State John Kerry as his special international climate envoy with a seat on the National Security Council.

Catch up fast: The slate includes several firsts. Haaland is the first Native American person tapped to run a Cabinet agency, while Regan would be the first Black man to lead the EPA, and Mallory would be the first Black person to head CEQ.

What they're saying: "When we think about climate change, we think jobs, we think good paying union jobs," Biden said, citing opportunities in areas like renewable power, electric vehicles and charging, water infrastructure and more.

Granholm said clean energy is “among the most promising jobs and economic growth sectors in the world.”

  • Biden and others also repeatedly raised environmental justice — addressing the disproportionate pollution burdens that poor people and communities of color face.
  • For instance, Haaland noted that Interior’s jurisdiction goes well beyond conservation and the agency has a role in “closing the racial wealth and health gaps.”
  • “Together, this team will ensure that environmental justice and human impacts are top of mind as we tackle these tough issues,” Regan said.

Yes, but: The event did not provide new specifics on how the administration hopes to implement the agenda Biden laid out on the campaign trail.

For instance, Haaland did not discuss plans to thwart new oil-and-gas permitting on vast swaths of federal lands that Interior oversees, a plan slated to receive heavy pushback from Republicans and industry groups that say it will cause job losses.

What we're watching: Regan, Haaland, Granholm and Mallory will need to be confirmed by the closely divided Senate.

  • "Republicans have already signaled they will sharply scrutinize the records of Haaland and Regan, including their past opposition to fossil fuel projects," Bloomberg reports.
  • McCarthy, her deputy Ali Zaidi, a top New York State energy official, and Kerry do not require Senate confirmation.

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Jan 28, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Takeaways from Biden's sweeping order on climate change

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Biden's mammoth executive order on climate policy weighs in at over 7,500 words and resists any single narrative, but I've got a few initial takeaways.

Why it matters: The order aims to marshal the entire federal government behind new initiatives, so that means agencies that may not have the muscle memory or expertise of the resource and environmental branches like EPA and DOE.

John Kerry: U.S.-China climate cooperation is a "critical standalone issue"

President Biden's special climate envoy John Kerry said Wednesday that the U.S. must deal with China on climate change as a "critical standalone issue," but stressed that confronting Beijing's human rights and trade abuses "will never be traded" for climate cooperation.

Why it matters: The last few years have brought about a bipartisan consensus on the threat posed by China. But as the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, China will be a vital player if the world is going to come close to reining in emissions on the scale needed to meet the Paris Agreement goals of limiting warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

Jan 28, 2021 - Podcasts

Biden's wide-ranging climate plan

Yesterday, President Joe Biden signaled a new direction for the country when it comes to climate change. He said it should be considered an essential part of foreign policy and national security.

He signed an extremely wide ranging executive order that includes a number of new measures that could kick off the battle between the White House and the oil industry.

  • Plus, Facebook’s pullback from politics.
  • And, the second round of small business loans are off to a slow start.