WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Friday brought back John Podesta, a behind-the-scenes veteran who has done things on climate in past Democratic administrations, to launch an ambitious $375 billion U.S. climate program -dollar was revived by Congress.
Biden named Podesta senior advisor tasked with implementing landmark clean energy and climate spending under the massive Health and Climate Act passed by Congress in August. Podesta will also lead the government’s climate task force.
Biden continued to reshape the White House climate team for a significantly more hopeful phase, also announcing the departure of his current climate advisor, Gina McCarthy. McCarthy, a former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, had led Biden’s national climate program during the Democrats’ two-year struggle – which often seemed doomed – to get climate funding through Congress. McCarthy was trusted on Capitol Hill and her departure was delayed until Biden could legally sign the new climate measures into law last month.
McCarthy was expected to serve only the first 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 meet Biden’s goal of reducing 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 ways we’ve never been able to before,” Zaidi said. “The law gives us the hammers, the nails and the plywood – but we need to build the clean energy future we aspire to.”
A surprise government-backed deal struck with two Democratic holdout senators last month saved a stripped-down version of Biden’s domestic spending program. That includes funding the largest US effort ever to slow fossil fuel-driven warming on the planet.
Podesta’s “deep roots in climate and clean energy policymaking, and experience at senior levels of government, means we can really go full steam ahead to capitalize on the tremendous clean energy opportunity ahead,” Biden said in a statement.
The election of Podesta, a Democratic White House veteran dating back to Bill Clinton in the early 1990s, is consistent with a Biden trend of choosing tried-and-true, well-known figures from previous administrations and skipping potentially more exciting and younger figures from the progressive movement. Among the more experienced figures is John Kerry, the former secretary of state in charge of US climate diplomacy abroad.
Podesta’s jobs for Democratic presidents include serving as Clinton’s acting chief of staff and helping push through some of Barack Obama’s early landmark climate efforts. In Donald Trump’s subsequent election, his administration reversed Obama’s old efforts to reduce climate-damaging fossil fuel emissions and appointed conservative judges who have since blocked some key climate initiatives.
Podesta was head of the think tanks Center for American Progress, and in that capacity has closely followed U.S. efforts to step up climate action in the wake of the Trump administration’s backlash.
Podesta is perhaps best known to the public for his role in 2016 as the unwitting victim of a hacking of his email account, an attack that US intelligence said Russia was involved. The email theft and leak has been credited with helping Trump win the presidency over Hillary Clinton. Podesta was Clinton’s campaign manager at the time.
Last month’s legislation, dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act, is expected to channel nearly $375 billion over the decade into climate change strategies that Democrats believe could get the country on track to Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030.
These include tax breaks for electric vehicles, a 10-year consumer tax credit for renewable energy investments in wind and solar power, and other tax breaks for consumers to go green.
For businesses, the bill provides $60 billion in a clean energy manufacturing tax credit and $30 billion in a wind and solar production tax credit, which are seen as tools to encourage and support the industries that are growing can help curb the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.
The bill also provides tax credits for nuclear power and carbon capture technology, which oil majors like Exxon Mobil have invested millions of dollars in developing.
The bill would impose a new fee on excess methane emissions from oil and gas wells while giving fossil fuel companies access to more leases on state land and water.