(NewsNation Now) — President-elect Joe Biden on Saturday rolled out an environmental team that he hopes will steer America toward greater action to curb climate change and protect the nation’s air and water.
“We literally have no time to waste,” Biden told reporters as introduced his choices.
Biden compared the climate threat to the calamity of the coronavirus pandemic and he pledged to take action.
“Folks, we’re in a crisis,” Biden said. “Just like we need a unified national response to COVID-19, we need a unified national response to climate change. We need to meet the moment with the urgency it demands as we would during any national emergency.”
Biden tapped North Carolina’s top environmental regulator, Michael Regan, as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief and Democratic congresswoman Deb Haaland as interior secretary as he builds his team to combat climate change and safeguard the environment.
If confirmed by the Senate, Regan would become the first Black man to run the EPA and Haaland would become the first Native American Cabinet secretary, adding to a historically diverse incoming Democratic administration.
In his remarks, Biden stressed the diversity of an emerging team that he described as “brilliant, qualified, tested and barrier-busting.”
“Already there are more people of color in our Cabinet than any Cabinet ever,” said the former vice president, who has promised to assemble a group of department leaders who reflect the diversity of America.
Biden said Thursday that the selections round out what he said would be an experienced climate team ready from their first day in office to tackle the “undeniable, accelerating, punishing reality of climate change.” Biden is proposing a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s transportation and electrical systems to cut the oil, gas and coal emissions behind worsening global warming.
Regan and Haaland are among the key officials, also including the secretaries of energy and transportation and the head of a new office leading domestic climate policy coordination at the White House, in Biden’s bid to make U.S. policy greener after four years of Republican Donald Trump’s presidency.
“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,” Biden said in a statement.
Biden plans to pursue a goal of moving the United States to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 —a once-unimaginable task that would require the world’s second-largest emitter to overhaul major parts of its economy, from cars, trucks and planes to power plants, farms and buildings.
Biden’s focus on climate marks a sharp change from Trump’s administration, which had Washington exit the Paris climate accord and work to soften or dismantle climate regulations the administration deemed harmful to the economy.
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The Interior Department employs more than 70,000 people across the United States and oversees more than 20% of the nation’s surface, including national parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite.
Regan became environmental chief in North Carolina in 2017 and made a name for himself by pursuing cleanups of industrial toxins and helping the low-income and minority communities hit hardest by pollution.
If confirmed by the Senate, Regan would take over the EPA after four years that have seen the Trump administration weaken or eliminate key public health and environmental protections. President Donald Trump had made the agency a special target for his drive to cut regulation, saying early on that he would leave only “bits” of the environmental agency behind.
Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna, would be in charge of an agency that has tremendous sway over the nearly 600 federally recognized tribes as well as over much of the nation’s vast public lands, waterways, wildlife, national parks and mineral wealth.
“A voice like mine has never been a Cabinet secretary or at the head of the Department of Interior,” Haaland said on Twitter. “Growing up in my mother’s Pueblo household made me fierce. I’ll be fierce for all of us, our planet, and all of our protected land. I am honored and ready to serve.”
Biden, set to take office on Jan. 20, has also vowed to prioritize the fight against the coronavirus that has killed more than 311,000 Americans. He must contend with the logistical challenges of a mass inoculation and overcome skepticism among some Americans about the vaccine’s efficacy and safety.
Biden will publicly get vaccinated next week, according to transition officials. Vice President Mike Pence, who has headed the White House coronavirus task force, received the vaccine in public on Friday, the highest-profile recipient to date.
Trump will get the vaccine when his medical team decides it is best, according to the White House.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.