Biden’s Great Green Cabinet Turns Brown Around the Edges

December 22nd, 2020 - by Lois Beckett / The Guardian UK & George Goehl / The Guardian

President-elect announces racially diverse team to face ‘existential threat of our time’

‘Folks, We’re in Crisis’: Joe Biden Introduces Environmental Advisers

Lois Beckett / The Guardian UK
(December 21, 2020) — President-elect Joe Biden announced a racially diverse slate of environmental advisers on Saturday, to help his administration confront what he called “the existential threat of our time, climate change”.

Biden touted his selection of Deb Haaland as the first Native American secretary of the interior, which has wielded influence over the nation’s tribes for generations.

North Carolina official Michael Regan is slated to be the first African American man to run the Environmental Protection Agency. A state environmental head since 2017, he has made his name pursuing clean-ups of industrial toxins and helping low-income and minority communities significantly affected by pollution.

“Already there are more people of color in our cabinet than any cabinet ever,” Biden said. Six members of his proposed cabinet are African American.

His commitment to diverse picks including a record number of women, he said, “opens doors and includes the full range of talents that we have in this nation”.

“We literally have no time to waste,” Biden told reporters in Wilmington, Delaware, citing out-of-control wildfires that have devastated the western states, tropical storms that “pummelled” the south, and record floods and droughts that have ravaged the agricultural midwest.

“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.”

Haaland, who has struggled with homelessness and relied on food stamps at one point, said her life has not been easy. “This moment is profound when we consider the fact that a former secretary of the interior once proclaimed his goal, was to quote, ‘civilize or exterminate’ us,” Haaland said, referring to Alexander H H Stuart, who said that in 1851. “I’m a living testament to the failure of that horrific ideology.”

Biden’s approach is a shift from that of Donald Trump, whose presidency has been marked by efforts to boost oil and gas production while rolling back government measures intended to safeguard the environment. The Trump administration is seeking to start as many initiatives as possible before Biden takes power.

Biden, who has said he will seek US re-entry into the Paris climate deal, from which Trump withdrew, will therefore try to undo or block as much of Trump’s work as possible. There also will be an emphasis on looking out for low-income, working class and minority communities hit hardest by fossil fuel pollution and climate change.

Biden called his team “brilliant, qualified, tested and barrier-busting”.

The former two-term Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm is in line to be energy secretary. Biden’s nominee to head the Council on Environmental Quality is Brenda Mallory. The CEQ oversees environmental reviews for virtually all major infrastructure projects and advises the president on major environmental issues. If confirmed, Mallory would be the first African American to hold the position since it was created more than 50 years ago.

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

Biden has promised to make tackling the climate crisis one of the pillars of his administration. But with a slim majority in the House of Representatives and control of the Senate undecided, he and his team may have to turn away from Congress and instead rely on rules from regulatory agencies to enact sweeping change.

Biden’s Pick for Agriculture Secretary Raises Serious Red Flags

Vilsack is a corporate yes-man and former lobbyist with a dismal record in his previous time as secretary. This is appalling.

George Goehl / The Guardian

(December 21, 2020) — It’s unlikely that Joe Biden expected that, of all his cabinet nominees, his choice for US agriculture secretary would cause the most blowback. Yet that is exactly what happened.

The former secretary Tom Vilsack, fresh off the revolving door, is a kind of all-in-one package of what frustrates so many about the Democratic party. His previous tenure leading the department was littered with failures, ranging from distorting data about Black farmers and discrimination to bowing to corporate conglomerates.

Vilsack’s nomination has been roundly rejected by some of the exact people who helped Biden defeat Trump: organizations representing Black people, progressive rural organizations, family farmers and environmentalists. If the Biden team was looking for ways to unite the multi-racial working class, they have done so — in full-throated opposition to this pick.

We remember when Vilsack toured agricultural communities, hearing devastating testimony of big ag’s criminal treatment of contract farmers. He went through the motions of expressing concern, but nothing came of it: the Department of Justice and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) kowtowed to agribusiness lobbyists and corporate interests, squandering a golden opportunity to rein in meat processing monopolies.

We remember when Vilsack’s USDA foreclosed on Black farmers who had outstanding complaints about racial discrimination and whitewashed its own record on civil rights. That’s in addition to the ousting of Shirley Sherrod, a Black and female USDA official, when the far-right media published a doctored hit piece, forcing her resignation.

We remember when Vilsack left his job at the USDA a week early to become a lobbyist as the chief executive of the US Dairy Export Council. He was paid a million-dollar salary to push the same failed policies of his USDA tenure, carrying out the wishes of dairy monopolies. Despite being nominated to lead the USDA again, he’s still collecting paychecks as a lobbyist.

The president-elect should have righted these wrongs by charting a bold, new course for rural communities and farmers in America. Instead, Vilsack’s nomination signaled more of the same from Democratic leadership.

“Democrats need to do something big for rural people to start supporting them again,” Francis Thicke, a family farmer in Fairfield, Iowa, told us recently. “The status quo won’t work, and that’s one reason why Vilsack is the wrong choice.”

Following Trump’s win in 2017, the organization I direct, People’s Action, embarked on a massive listening project. We traveled across rural America — from family farms in Iowa, to the Driftless region of Wisconsin, up the Thumb of Michigan, to the hills of Appalachia — and had 10,000 conversations with rural Americans. When we asked the people we met the biggest barrier to their community getting what it needed, the top answer (81%) was a government captured by corporate power. The Vilsack pick does nothing to assuage these concerns.

As Michael Stovall, founder of Independent Black Farmers, told Politico: “Vilsack is not good for the agriculture industry, period. When it comes to civil rights, the rights of people, he’s not for that.”

Mike Callicrate, a rancher from Colorado Springs, was equally direct. “Vilsack assisted big agribusiness monopolies in preying upon and gutting rural America,” he told us, “greatly reducing opportunities for young people to return and remain on our farms and ranches. His policy led to catastrophic rural decline, followed by suicide rates not seen since the 1980s farm crisis.”

Biden had a chance to finally right some wrongs. Sadly, he missed the mark on this one by a country mile.

George Goehl is the director of People’s Action.

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