Joe Biden announced six new members of the White House staff who will dedicate their time to stopping climate change on Thursday morning.
These personnel additions should leave climate activists cautiously optimistic, and many of these individuals are examples of people we would like to see staffed in every department and agency throughout the federal government.
Take Maggie Thomas, who will serve as Chief of Staff in the new climate office. Thomas was most recently the political director at Evergreen Action, the organization that developed Governor Jay Inslee’s presidential climate platform into a gold-standard set of policies to be utilized by the federal government. Thomas has a strong record of climate-forward public service without influence from corporate power, including work with the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the National Wildlife Refuge Association. She believes we need a “full mobilization of the federal government to defeat the climate crisis,” and has not been shy about saying the federal government “should be spending a lot of money” and should “step up and take the lead” in forcing the private sector to act on climate. She has emphasized that companies need not only decarbonize their own emissions but the emissions related to their investments, and she has firmly stated that “there is no role for natural gas” in a just transition. In short, Maggie Thomas is the sort of public servant and climate advocate we need to see everywhere in a Biden-led federal government.
Sonia Aggarwal, current Vice President at Energy Innovation, a climate policy think tank that advances emissions-reducing energy strategies, is also a member of the Evergreen Action Advisory Board. Dr. Cecilia Martinez, a researcher who has focused on energy justice and advocates for indigenous rights, justice, and sustainability, is another welcome and exciting new hire. Jeff Marootion, a transportation expert who recently led the charge for Washington, D.C. to join a multi-state Transportation and Climate Initiative, will be yet another valuable asset to both Biden and the climate movement as they begin the urgent transition to a just, green economy.
While these hires are mostly cause for hope, we are not without concern. Two of the newly announced appointees, David Hayes and Jahi Wise, have worked for law firms which received an F-rating from Law Students for Climate Accountability. Hayes’ experience in particular is cause for alarm; he was Partner and Global Chair for the Environment, Land, and Resources Department of Latham & Watkins before and between his service in the Clinton and Obama administrations. Latham & Watkins facilitated $110 billion worth of climate change-exacerbating transactions between 2015 and 2019, including the Dakota Access Pipeline, and worked with clients including ExxonMobil and Anadarko Petroleum. They also litigated against efforts to hold fossil fuel companies liable for climate change damages, which we hope to see Hayes firmly oppose.
However, Hayes now serves on the board of the Coalition for Green Capital, where Jahi Wise is also Policy Director. They both work to halt climate change by accelerating investment in clean energy technologies and advocating for national and local non-profit Green Bank finance institutions.
As Biden’s appointments progress, the Revolving Door Project will continue to keep a close watch on financial regulatory agency positions. These agencies, many of them independent, wield the power to force banks, stock traders, and other financial institutions to incorporate climate risk into their decisions. They can play a major role in financially disincentivizing fossil fuel projects and decarbonizing the economy, and in each of these agencies, climate action is obligatory.
Today, we are pleased with Biden’s choice to staff his climate teams with legitimate policy experts. Tomorrow and each day following, we will continue to push Biden to hire climate leaders in every single federal position. As today’s six appointees show, there are climate advocates in every sector waiting for the opportunity to wield federal power for good. An understanding of our dire position hurtling towards climate chaos and the ability and willingness to fight against that fate is a non-negotiable litmus test for every public servant in Biden’s administration.