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The President Has a Team, and Decarbonization Has Its Time

What was that line from Hoosiers?

In Brief

Last month, we looked at how a minuscule Senate majority could help President Joe Biden turn campaign promises into climate-smart policies. 

One key lever involves the power to confirm cabinet appointments, though so far fewer than half these nominees have started work. 

Those who have started can make quick strides, though. With Pete Buttigieg confirmed as Transportation Secretary and (as of last Thursday) Jennifer Granholm in at Energy, does the clean energy industry have a simpatico federal bureaucracy? 

Jennifer Granholm, former governor of the auto-manufacturing mecca in Michigan, became the United States secretary of energy on February 25. Granholm now oversees a revamped agency that includes energy-justice advocate Shalanda Baker in a key role and other clean-energy doers in high places. Is this a downpayment on President Joe Biden's promise to reach carbon-neutral electricity in 14 years? 

It just might be, and Biden's White House team reinforces the idea. 

According to Dan Esty, professor at Yale School of the Environment and Yale Law School,  the climate team already at work combines antenna for how government works with ambition for what it must do. "[Domestic climate czar] Gina McCarthy is an experienced regulator, for example," he says. "All these folks have skills in their category but also have sensitivity to climate change."

Biden returned the United States to the Paris accords the day he took office. What's next? Esty notes that legislation to create a national green bank gained steam in February. In the Department of Transportation, federal funding for big rail projects and electric-vehicle procurement are taking shape. Standards, purchasing policies and incentives should emerge over the spring and summer.

If they don't, Esty warns, it may mean that Biden's highly qualified team faces an even more highly scattered set of federal procedures. "As days and weeks flow by, these folks will demonstrate the capacity to move a piece of federal bureaucracy," he says.  "Now, if months and years pass and we aren't seeing change at a transformative scale, you have to ask if one of these individuals has gone off the rails and needs some more support."