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Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images     

News emerged Sunday night that President-elect Joe Biden plans to tap Brian Deese to direct the National Economic Council inside the White House.

Catch up fast: He was a senior climate aide late in the Obama era, helping to craft the Paris climate deal, and held senior roles at White House Office of Management and Budget and the NEC.

  • During the Trump years, Deese has been head of sustainable investing at asset management behemoth BlackRock (more on that in a moment).

Why it matters: The NEC could play an influential role steering climate policy in the Biden era, especially as the nascent administration plans a broad approach that goes well beyond agencies like EPA and Interior.

  • "Brian will be the most focused on climate change of any top economic official ever. He sees it as an integral part of an overall economic strategy," Jason Furman, who led the Council of Economic Advisers under former President Obama, tells me.
  • "He is very effective at whatever he sets his mind to, so will help the administration creatively execute using all of its levers even if it cannot get legislation passed," he says.

Where it stands: Deese's BlackRock gig makes him a controversial figure on the left. Some groups argue that work with BlackRock, which has big fossil fuel holdings, should be disqualifying despite the company's increased focus on climate.

  • Criticism of BlackRock goes beyond climate change, but that's certainly part of it.
  • Last week, for instance, activists with groups including the Sunrise Movement's New York chapter staged a demonstration outside BlackRock offices there.

Yes, but: A bunch of climate advocates, ranging from people with establishment green groups to those allied with the left flank of the movement, have been speaking up on Deese's behalf.

  • A few days ago the prominent progressive activist Bill McKibben penned a widely circulated Twitter thread defending Deese's commitment.

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Jan 27, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden to sign major climate orders, setting up clash with oil industry

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Biden will sign new executive actions today that provide the clearest signs yet of his climate plans — elevating the issue to a national security priority and kicking off an intense battle with the oil industry.

Driving the news: One move will freeze issuance of new oil-and-gas leases on public lands and waters "to the extent possible," per a White House summary.

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.

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.