Democrat Joe Biden is considering creating a special White House office led by a climate “czar” to coordinate efforts to fight global warming if he is elected president, according to people familiar with the deliberations.
Among the candidates being discussed to head the operation are former Secretary of State John Kerry, who helped broker the landmark Paris climate accord, and Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington who ran for the Democratic nomination on climate issues, according to the people, who asked for anonymity to discuss private deliberations. John Podesta, President Bill Clinton’s White House chief of staff, has also been mentioned.
“Climate needs to be a lens through which the next president approaches their entire domestic and economic policy, including investment, regulation and inter-agency coordination,” said Bracken Hendricks, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute.
Hendricks has called for an office led by the “assistant to the president for climate mobilization.” Former staffers and supporters of Inslee are promoting the creation of a “White House Office of Climate Mobilization.” The Center for American Progress is recommending a “National Climate Council” akin to a National Security Council.
“An office could be very powerful with a director that is close to the president and has his blessing,” Hendricks said.
A new high-level climate office would signal to Biden’s supporters that he’s making the issue a top priority. And a climate czar could help promote a coordinated, whole-of-government approach to confronting the challenge.
Yet the effort risks alienating voters worried Biden would grow the size of the federal government. And for businesses, it could telegraph plans to rely on the reach of federal agencies — and potentially costly federal regulations — to fight climate change.
A White House climate office could complement and coordinate existing federal agencies that already have a role addressing the issue, including the Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates air pollution.
A representative of the Biden campaign declined to comment. Biden has already signaled he’s receptive to the approach, having floated the idea in April of a creating a new cabinet level position on climate that “goes far beyond the EPA.”
Such an office could be created through executive fiat and be modeled after the Office of War Mobilization created by President Franklin Roosevelt during World War II to ramp up the production of war time necessities, Hendricks said.
Already, Biden has proposed a sweeping $2 trillion climate plan that calls for an emissions-free electric grid in 15 years, and includes a target of net-zero emissions across the entire economy by 2050.
President Donald Trump, by contrast, mocked global warming fears while rolling back climate regulations imposed by his predecessor, arguing they were harmful for the economy.
Potential leaders of a separate White House climate effort include Kerry, Barack Obama’s former secretary of state. He helped negotiate the Paris climate agreement and is one of the three co-chairs of a “unity task force” on climate change formed by Biden and former campaign rival Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Kerry is interested in possibly joining a Biden administration and the role of climate czar is seen as a natural fit, after his four-year tenure in Obama’s cabinet and more than a quarter century representing Massachusetts in the Senate, said a person familiar with the campaign’s thinking on the matter.
He’s a savvy politician who enjoys goodwill on Capitol Hill as well as an experienced diplomat who could immediately build on one of Biden’s Day One priorities: rejoining the Paris climate accord. Kerry says the next step, after rejoining the 2015 accord is “to lift ambition significantly, on a global basis.”
Podesta authored the Center for American Progress’s plan for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.
“The scope and urgency of the climate crisis, as well as the need to sustain a program of policy innovation for decades, will require a coordinated, holistic effort drawing on the expertise and resources of the entire federal government,” the Center for American Progress said in its proposal, which was published last year.
Not everyone in the environmental community is a fan of the idea of a climate czar. Critics, such as Paul Bledsoe, a former climate official in the Clinton White House, said Obama installed Carol Browner in the role unofficially early in his administration, but later moved many of the duties to the National Security Council after an “unsuccessful start” that included a failure to pass major climate legislation.
“Assigning a climate leader within the White House doesn’t necessarily get anything done in an of itself,” said Bledsoe. “You have to make climate change a central goal of the traditional power centers in the White House. And I certainly believe Biden will do that.”
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