Cabinet Competition

Competition for Cabinet posts key to environmental policy is heating up. The biggest jobs under the microscope now are those heading the Interior Department, Agriculture Department (USDA), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Competing pitches for big roles in an incoming presidential administration are standard fare, and the Biden-Harris transition period is no exception. Since commitment to action on climate change, environmental protection, and environmental justice was a major theme of the Democratic ticket’s general election campaign, all the candidates reported under review share those commitments. The differences lie in finer points of strategy and experience.

For example, one leading candidate to head the EPA is reported to be Mary Nichols, outgoing chair of the California Air Resources Board. During the Trump Administration, Nichols helped lead California’s fight to defend its stronger vehicle emissions standards against Trump’s legal assaults. However, Nichols is also criticized by some groups as having not gone far enough on some issues.

In addition, the Democratic National Committee Council on Environment and Climate Crisis has made two endorsements for Cabinet roles, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) for Agriculture Secretary and Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) for Interior Secretary.

“These climate champions would work with dedication and effectiveness to address the worsening climate crisis and the myriad of other environmental issues facing our nation,” said committee chair Michelle Deatrick. “The Departments of Agriculture and of the Interior have profound impacts on environmental justice, the environment, and climate. Representative Fudge will bring to the table over a decade of vital experience addressing nutrition, hunger, and poverty, a profound understanding of both her urban district and her agricultural state, and the earned trust and respect of the heartland. Representative Haaland brings a strong record of effective fighting for the Earth and equity. She is an Indigenous Rights leader and a fossil fuel fighter, a steward of our resources, and a champion of the end to fossil fuel extraction on public lands that is an integral part of Joe Biden’s climate plan.” 

Other reported short-list candidates for those appointments include former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) for Agriculture and former deputy Interior secretary Michael Connor for Interior. Like Haaland, Connor would be the first Native American to lead the department if selected. In addition to serving as a leader of the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Fudge is a past chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. 

Most of the larger environmental advocacy groups, including the national League of Conservation Voters, have not weighed in publicly on these Cabinet appointments yet. This may suggest either strong backchannel communications in place or confidence that Biden’s choices will be good ones — or both.

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