The President’s Climate Dude

Gina McCarthy is the right choice for the climate czar job.


If you’re casting a film for a really odd couple, you might consider Joe Biden’s top choices to head his climate team. Former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, Biden’s pick for presidential envoy for climate change, is a walking poster boy for the kind of wealthy, private-plane junketing, “see you at Davos,” Sierra Club elitist that is easy for anti-environmentalists and Fox News entertainers to caricature.

If confirmed as expected, Kerry will have a seat on the National Security Council, which will help guide American foreign policy on climate. John Muir, he’s not, but he knows important people and he’ll be fine as long he doesn’t allow himself to be Swift boated into being the face of the administration’s day-to-day efforts.

The role will fall to his domestic counterpart, Gina McCarthy, a former EPA administrator under President Obama and the current CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council, who was named National climate adviser with an office and staff in the White House and a mandate to coordinate domestic climate strategy across federal agencies and Congress.

Although McCarthy and Kerry are both from Massachusetts, the similarities end there. McCarthy is a petite, tough as nails, gray-haired working-class woman in regulation Hillary pantsuit or jeans who would be easy to mistake for a pushover if she weren’t regularly known to be the smartest, best-informed, and toughest person in the room. She is a Chihuahua with the jaws of a Rottweiler, which I say with true awe and affection.

This is not McCarthy’s first clambake. She has worked on environmental issues at the national, state and local levels for more than 30 years. McCarthy served as Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection from 2004 to 2009, held the position of Assistant Administrator for EPA's Office of Air and Radiation from 2009 to 2013, and has been environmental adviser to five Massachusetts governors, including Mitt Romney. 

She faces the daunting task of coordinating with 21 federal agencies over the next three months to identify policies and actions that can be taken between now and 2030 to deliver concrete greenhouse gas reductions as the basis for the United States' return to the Paris Agreement.

As we know, the Trump administration abandoned Paris long before its formal withdrawal so absolutely nothing has been done on this issue for more than four years which means this will be a heavy lift. President Biden plans to submit the country's nationally determined contribution, or NDC, to the United Nations during a Climate Leaders Summit scheduled for Earth Day on April 22.

McCarthy seems unfazed by the magnitude of the challenge. At the press conference announcing their appointments McCarthy memorably said "I'm the dude who's supposed to deliver this in a timely way and he sets the timing," she said, nodding inscrutably towards Kerry.

Perhaps the most telling indicator that McCarthy is a serious environmentalist who is willing to take on the pollution lobby is that after Obama nominated her to head the EPA in 2013, Republicans in the Senate held up her nomination for 136 days—a record that still stands in infamy. Former Louisiana Senator David Vitter (we won’t go there), top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee submitted more than 600 questions and five “transparency” requests for McCarthy to answer in writing. House Republicans, led by Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, who seems to be running for the Louie Gohmert Congeniality Award, even attempted to impeach her after she was confirmed.

She won’t have those problems this time. Although her role is a Cabinet-level position, McCarthy’s appointment does not require a Senate confirmation hearing.

Further proof, that this is not Joe Biden’s first clambake either.

Note: Since I began writing this update, Fox has posted an article called “John Kerry took private jet to Iceland for environmental award, called it 'only choice for somebody like me'‘) That sure didn’t take long.

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