WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden on Friday brought back John Podesta, a behind-the-scenes veteran at getting things done on climate in past Democratic administrations, to put into place an ambitious U.S. climate program newly revived by $375 billion from Congress.
Biden named Podesta as a senior adviser, charged with implementing the landmark clean-energy and climate spending under the huge health care and climate bill passed by Congress in August. Podesta will also lead the administration's climate task force.
Further reshaping the White House's climate team for a significantly more hopeful phase, Biden also announced the departure of his current climate adviser, Gina McCarthy. A former Environmental Protection Agency chief, McCarthy had led Biden's domestic climate program during Democrats' two years of struggle — often seeming all but doomed — to get the climate financing through Congress. McCarthy was trusted on Capitol Hill and delayed her departure until Biden could sign the new climate measures into law last month.
McCarthy had been expected to serve only the opening half of Biden’s term. Ali Zaidi, McCarthy’s deputy, will succeed her as national climate adviser, the White House said.
Zaidi said in an interview that the key will be implementing the law and working with federal agencies to achieve Biden's goal of slashing carbon emissions over the next decade and beyond.
“We are in a paradigm shift, where we finally have the resources we need to accelerate climate action in a way we have never been able to before," Zaidi said. ”The law gives us the hammers, the nails and the plywood — but we’ve got to build the clean energy future that we seek."
A surprise administration-backed deal struck last month with two Democratic holdout senators salvaged a pared-down version of Biden's domestic spending program. That includes funding for the biggest U.S. effort ever at slowing down the fossil-fuel-driven warming of the Earth.
Podesta's “deep roots in climate and clean energy policy and his experience at senior levels of government mean we can truly hit the ground running to take advantage of the massive clean energy opportunity in front of us,” Biden said in a statement.
The pick of Podesta, a veteran of Democratic White Houses dating back to Bill Clinton’s in the early 1990s, is in line with a Biden trend of picking tested, familiar figures from past administrations, passing over potentially more exciting and younger figures from the progressive movement. The more experienced figures include John Kerry, the former secretary of state charged with U.S. climate diplomacy abroad.
Podesta's jobs for Democratic presidents include acting chief of staff for Clinton and helping push through some early landmark climate efforts by Barack Obama. The subsequent election of Donald Trump saw his administration reverse Obama’s legacy efforts to cut climate-damaging fossil fuel emissions, as well as appoint conservative judges who have since blocked some key climate initiatives.
Podesta has been serving as head of the Center for American Progress think tank, and in that role he has been closely following the U.S. efforts to step up climate action after the setbacks of the Trump administration.
Podesta is perhaps best-known to the public for his 2016 role as the unwitting victim of hacking of his email account, an attack that U.S. intelligence said had Russian involvement. The email theft and leak were credited with helping Trump win the presidency over Hillary Clinton. Podesta was then Clinton’s campaign manager.
The legislation that passed last month, called the “Inflation Reduction Act,” is meant to infuse nearly $375 billion over the decade in climate change-fighting strategies that Democrats believe could put the country on a path to cut greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030.
That includes tax rebates for electric vehicles, a 10-year consumer tax credit for renewable energy investments in wind and solar and other tax breaks for consumers to go green.
For businesses, the bill has $60 billion for a clean energy manufacturing tax credit and $30 billion for a production tax credit for wind and solar, seen as ways to boost and support the industries that can help curb the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.
The bill also gives tax credits for nuclear power and carbon-capture technology that oil companies such as Exxon Mobil have invested millions of dollars to advance.
The bill would impose a new fee on excess methane emissions from oil and gas drilling while giving fossil fuel companies access to more leases on federal lands and waters.