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.

What You Need To Know

  • President-elect Joe Biden introduced his environmental and climate picks Saturday, including a number of historic, diverse firsts

  • New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland would be the first Native American to lead the Interior Department

  • North Carolina environmental chief Michael Regan, if confirmed by the Senate, would be the first African American man to run the Environmental Protection Agency

  • Brenda Mallory would be the first African American to oversee the Council on Environmental Quality

“We literally have no time to waste,” Biden told reporters as he introduced his choices.

"Just this year, wildfires burned more than 5 million acres in California, Washington, and across the West — an area roughly the size of the entire state of New Jersey," he added. "Intense and powerful hurricanes and tropical storms pummeled Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, and across the Gulf and along the East Coast. Record floods, hurricane-speed windstorms, and severe droughts ravaged the Midwest."

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.”

The approach is a shift from Donald Trump’s presidency, which has been marked by efforts to boost oil and gas production while rolling back government efforts intended to safeguard the environment. The incoming Biden team will try to undo or block many of the current administration’s initiatives. There also will be an emphasis on looking out for the low-income, working class and minority communities hit hardest by fossil fuel pollution and climate change.

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.

If confirmed by the Senate, New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland would be the first Native American to lead the Interior Department, which has wielded influence over the nation’s tribes for generations. Former two-term Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm is in line to be energy secretary.

"We will ensure that the decisions at Interior will once again be driven by science," Haaland pledged.

"We know that climate change can only be solved with participation of every department and of every community coming together in common purpose — this country can and will tackle this challenge," she added. 

North Carolina official Michael Regan would be the first African American man to run the Environmental Protection Agency. Regan, the state environmental head since 2017, has made a name for himself by pursuing cleanups of industrial toxins and helping the low-income and minority communities significantly affected by pollution.

"Since the start of my career, my goals have been the same: To safeguard our natural resources; to improve the quality of our air and water; to protect families and communities and help them seize the opportunities of a cleaner, healthier world," Regan said. "Now, I’m honored to pursue those goals alongside leaders who understand what’s at stake."

Biden’s nominee to oversee the Council on Environmental Quality is Brenda Mallory. The office oversees environmental reviews for virtually all major infrastructure projects and advises the president on major environmental issues. If confirmed, she would be the first African American to hold the position since it was created more than half a century ago.

"It is essential that we deploy smart and humane policy to help communities pull themselves back from the edge and improve the health, security, and prosperity of all their people," Mallory said.

Two other members of the team introduced Saturday do not need Senate confirmation. They are Gina McCarthy, to serve as national climate adviser, and Ali Zaidi, to serve as her deputy. McCarthy was EPA administrator from 2013 to 2017 during President Barack Obama’s second term.