Why Is Joe Biden Considering an Anti–Green New Dealer for Energy Secretary?

With Donald Trump’s defeat, the planet dodged a giant meteor. Now, it needs protection from Joe Biden, whose energy secretary short list includes fracking fanboy and enemy of the Green New Deal, Ernest Moniz.

Ernest Moniz testifies before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on April 9, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee / Getty Images)

Serious environmentalists exhaled with relief when it became clear that Donald Trump would leave office in January. The planet could not have endured four more years of deliberate destruction of the nation’s regulatory apparatus, flanked by gleeful drilling in the Arctic, fervent opposition to environmental protection measures taken by states, and agencies staffed by every possible stripe of radical, apocalypse-loving climate denialist.

Even a hater like me agrees that the Biden administration will be much better. The president-elect recognizes that climate change is real. He speaks concretely and specifically about phasing out fossil fuels and creating good renewable energy jobs. He is making more serious plans to address climate change than any US president thus far. It’s a low bar, to be sure, but one that should occasion a victory dance from the Left. It’s clear that pressure from protest groups like the Sunrise Movement and leadership by democratic-socialist politicians and organizers like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — and the hundreds of thousands of activists they’ve helped inspire — have profoundly shifted the contours of what’s possible in environmental policy, giving Biden the potential to be a far better climate president than we could have imagined under either Trump or Obama.

The problem is climate activists aren’t the only ones organizing. The fossil fuel industry is, too — and with some success. As a result, Biden is considering some awful appointments and allowing some extremely shady advisers into his environmental discussions. Environmentalists have already begun protesting Biden’s icky and improper handsiness with polluters and their lackeys — and they’re right to do so.

One of Biden’s close advisers — and on the short list for the top spot at his Department of Energy — is Obama’s energy secretary and fracking fanboy Ernest Moniz, an enemy of the Green New Deal who has been strenuously insisting that the fossil fuel industry — especially natural gas — needs to be part of the green future. Despite the consensus among scientists that we’re running out of time to reverse serious climate damage and must act immediately to avoid mass extinction and civilizational collapse, Moniz has warned against the dangers of decarbonizing too quickly. And no wonder: his research and “analyses” of these issues have been funded by oil and gas companies. He serves on the board of the Southern Company, which, as the Guardian recently reported, is one of the worst polluters in America. Greenpeace and seventy-five other environmental justice and climate groups signed a letter urging Biden not to choose Moniz as energy secretary.

Just as troublingly, many other Biden transition team members have close ties to Moniz and to the fossil fuel industry, Rob Galbraith and Derek Seidman of LittleSis report.

Environmental groups are also livid about the appointment of Louisiana congressman Cedric Richmond to the White House Office of Public Engagement and as climate liaison. Richmond’s political career has been handsomely funded by the fossil fuel industry. He was one of the few Democrats who voted for the Keystone XL Pipeline. As the Guardian reports, he has done far too little to stop horrific environmental racism in his own district, which includes the seventh-most polluted Census tract in the nation and is often called “Cancer Alley” for that reason. Community members there have accused him of being horrifically disengaged from these issues despite the horrendous health problems afflicting his constituents; they have described him as “shameful . . . just terrible” and “totally absent.” Sunrise called Richmond’s appointment a “betrayal.”

Perhaps even worse, as the Intercept has reported, Michael McCabe is part of the Biden transition team’s agency review for the Environmental Protection Agency. McCabe, after serving in Clinton’s EPA, started managing DuPont’s communications department, otherwise known as, defending toxic chemicals. He used his intimate knowledge of — and access to — EPA documents to help DuPont sanitize the reputation of a chemical responsible for poisoning people’s drinking water and causing birth defects in children. Later, George W. Bush’s EPA fined DuPont over McCabe’s deceptions.

No doubt realizing that, fairly or unfairly, liberal wokeness doesn’t usually extend to the sons of Portuguese immigrants, mainstream Democrats haven’t implied that environmentalists are racist to criticize Ernest Moniz. But some have done so in the case of Cedric Richmond, who is black.

This will become an increasingly desperate line of defense throughout this administration and its fans. It is monumental horseshit that must not be permitted to insult our collective intelligence. The New York Times’s DealBook recently reached new lows in neoliberal identitarian propaganda, asking “Could Limiting Corporate Candidates Hurt Biden’s Diversity Push?” DealBook quoted Paul Thornell of the bipartisan lobbying group Mehlman Castagnetti, arguing that it was racially insensitive, given the black-white wealth gap in the United States, to call for a ban on appointees with corporate ties, as many on the Left have done. (Thornell’s firm has a client list that includes most of America’s worst problems: the health insurance, venture capital, private hospital, and fossil fuel industries, as well as Big Pharma.)

DealBook is not alone; the centrist think tank Third Way has been following similar talking points, warning that progressives have to choose between a diverse Biden cabinet and one committed to opposing corporate interests. The logic, such as it is, seems to be that only rich white people can afford not to sell out to industry. Tell that to the one in five black workers employed in the public sector, which has historically been a far better employer to African Americans than the private sector. Also tell that to all the black activists fighting environmental pollution in communities like Louisiana’s Cancer Alley, many of whom would obviously be excellent additions to this administration.

These problems are urgent and can’t wait. While Biden’s victory was hard won, and good news for the planet, the timeline of climate change and pollution won’t permit the new president a honeymoon period. The time to make him get serious about rejecting fossil fuels — along with their apologists and profiteers — is now, before he takes office.