President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Thursday unveiled his picks for the top climate and energy posts in his administration, leaving little doubt of an impending sea change in federal policy when he takes office on Jan. 20.

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The nominations and appointments comprise U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM), Department of the Interior (DOI) secretary; former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Department of Energy (DOE) secretary; Michael Regan, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator; Brenda Mallory, chair of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ); former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, national climate adviser; and Ali Zaidi, deputy national climate adviser.

Several of the picks had been leaked to the press before the official announcement.

“This brilliant, tested trailblazing team will be ready on day one to confront the existential threat of climate change with a unified national response rooted in science and equity,” said Biden. “They share my belief that we have no time to waste to confront the climate crisis, protect our air and drinking water, and deliver justice to communities that have long shouldered the burdens of environmental harms.

“Together, on behalf of all Americans, they will meet this moment with the urgency it demands — and seize the opportunity to build back better with good-paying jobs, climate-resilient infrastructure, and a clean energy future that benefits every single community.”

Haaland currently serves as vice chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, and would be the first-ever Native American cabinet secretary if confirmed.

Granholm served two terms as governor, from 2002-2011. Her work “during and after her tenure has centered on creating clean energy jobs in America,” the Biden team said, adding that her “leadership was instrumental in reducing the U.S. auto industry, saving one million jobs, and preparing Detroit for a clean energy future.”

Regan serves currently as Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, and has served in the EPA under both Democratic and Republican presidents.

Mallory is an environmental lawyer who formerly served as general counsel to the CEQ, and currently directs regulatory policy at the Southern Environmental Law Center, which was instrumental in stopping the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a scuttled natural gas conduit that would have transported 1.5 Bcf/d Appalachian natural gas to the Southeast.  If confirmed, she would be the first African American to lead CEQ.

McCarthy would be the first-ever national climate adviser. Her appointment follows that of former Secretary of State John Kerry, who would serve as special presidential envoy for climate, another newly created position.

“A leading voice on climate and environmental issues for more than 30 years, McCarthy was a driving force behind the Obama-Biden administration’s groundbreaking Clean Power Plan during her tenure as administrator of the EPA,” the Biden transition team said. McCarthy would drive an “all of government approach” to tackling climate change.

Zaidi, who immigrated from Pakistan and grew up outside Erie, PA, helped draft the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan and helped negotiate the United Nations global climate agreement, aka the Paris Agreement.

Industry Reacts

Reactions from the oil and gas industry to Biden’s picks has varied, with some groups offering an olive branch and others taking a more adversarial position.

“We stand ready to work with the President-elect’s nominees once confirmed to tackle the challenge of climate change by building on America’s progress in delivering affordable and reliable energy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions to generational lows,” said American Petroleum Institute (API) CEO Mike Sommers. “Energy impacts every American and is not a partisan issue – it’s what modern life depends on.”

He added, “In the year ahead, we will continue to advocate for policies that promote technological innovation, advance modern energy infrastructure and support access to natural gas and oil resources — both on federal and private lands — which will be critical to rebuilding our economy and maintaining America’s status as a global energy leader.

Highlighting that the oil and gas industry supports more than 10 million jobs, Sommers said, “We will also be watching closely to ensure that the incoming administration keeps President-elect Biden’s campaign promises to the energy workforce and protects the millions of jobs supported by our industry in states like New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania and across the country.” 

American Gas Association CEO Karen Harbert struck a similar tone on Thursday in outlining her group’s vision for 2020.

“There are no Republican or Democratic energy molecules,” she said. “We will continue to find consensus across political lines and do what is best for each community.”

The Empowerment Alliance, a group that advocates for U.S. energy independence through domestic natural gas production, was less diplomatic.

Regan and Haaland “have repeatedly expressed hostility to natural gas, and America should be very concerned that Biden’s energy and environmental cabinet officials will roll back our progress,” said group spokesman Ian Prior. This would result in “higher energy costs for families and small businesses, while ensuring that we have to rely on geopolitical rivals like Russia for reliable energy sources.” 

‘Beyond Notice-and-Comment’

Biden’s selections “reinforce our expectation for an ambitious climate agenda that makes maximal use of executive branch authorities, said analysts at ClearView Energy Partners LLC in a research note to clients. 

“We do not anticipate radical interventions, such as an invocation of a ‘climate emergency’ to shut down pipelines and oil exports, but we do expect tighter performance standards, higher regulatory hurdles, longer permitting timelines and fewer approvals of federal fossil fuel energy infrastructure permits.”

The ClearView team said the selection of McCarthy and Zaidi in particular “reinforces our conviction that Biden intends to go beyond notice-and-comment rulemakings, leveraging his Executive Branch convening powers to coordinate climate policy with states.”

That Haalend hails from New Mexico should not necessarily be viewed as a sign that the state will win clemency from Biden’s plan to prohibit new drilling permits on federal land, the ClearView team said. Rather, Biden likely picked a New Mexico elected official “to better sugarcoat bitter medicine for blue state constituents. “In other words, we see Haaland as likely confirmation of Biden’s intent to end leasing,” analysts said.

Western states such as New Mexico and Wyoming would be the most affected by a moratorium on new federal drilling.

A study published last Tuesday by University of Wyoming’s Timothy Considine, a professor of energy economics, found that a federal drilling ban could cost the state more than $300 million/year in lost tax revenue during the first five years.