with Alexandra Ellerbeck

Unwinding President Trump's rollbacks of anti-pollution rules is going to take a lot of work. And much of it is going to fall on whomever Joe Biden chooses as his main deputies on environmental issues.

Just a week after victory and without a formal concession of defeat from Trump, the president-elect is forging ahead with building a Cabinet that will have to contend with multiple crises at once — including climate change.

Biden must balance many considerations. He has promised to assemble a diverse Cabinet — one that both racially reflects the country itself and that satisfies the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic Party. 

And crucially, many of the Democrat's high-level choices must be approved by a sharply divided Senate. Democrats must win two runoff elections in Georgia in January to gain control of the chamber. Otherwise, Republicans will retain a thin Senate majority that may prove to be a roadblock for Biden appointments seen as too left-leaning.

Caveats abound: The transition team itself is tight-lipped about the process, and any individual could be pulled from or put into consideration at any moment. The names below emerged as possible picks in conversations my colleagues Juliet Eilperin, Steven Mufson and I have had in recent weeks with those in Democratic circles who have worked on energy and environmental issues.

Environmental Protection Agency

  • Mary Nichols: Over the past four years, the California Air Resources Board head has been central to the state's fight with the Trump administration over environmental rollbacks. When the EPA undid tougher air pollution rules for new cars implemented under President Barack Obama, Nichols helped forge an agreement with four major automakers to maintain the more-stringent standards in California. During her 13-year tenure running the California agency, she has helped put in place the state's cap-and-trade program for greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Collin O'Mara: Unlike the leaders of other some environmental groups, O'Mara, head of the National Wildlife Federation, has worked with both Democrats and Republicans to advance habitat conservation efforts in Congress. He also, crucially, has ties to Biden's home state; O'Mara is said to have been the nation's youngest state Cabinet official in 2009 when he ran the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. That happens to be same Cabinet in which Biden's late son Beau served as attorney general.
  • Mustafa Santiago Ali: Also an executive at the National Wildlife Federation, Ali made headlines shortly after Trump took office for resigning from his post as an EPA assistant associate administrator. He left with more than two decades of experience at the EPA, having worked in both Democratic and Republican administrations and helped create the agency's environmental justice office in the early 1990s. Environmentalists say picking him makes sense for an administration aiming to tackle the disproportionate impact poor and minority communities face from air and water pollution.
  • Heather McTeer Toney: Besides running the EPA's Southeast office under Obama, she was also the first female and African-American mayor of Greenville, Miss. Now a senior director at the Moms Clean Air Force, she has spoken out against the Trump administration's rejection of stricter air quality standards during the pandemic in which the coronavirus attacks the lungs.
  • Richard Revesz: The New York University law professor is considered one of the foremost legal minds in environmental law. Originally from Argentina, he has spent most of his career in academia. But he has managing experience, having served as dean of the NYU law school from 2002 to 2013.
  • Daniel Esty: Though now an academic with appointments at Yale's forestry, law and business schools, Esty once served as commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. There he helped launch a first-in-the-nation “green bank” for promoting clean energy. Biden has proposed creating a similar institution nationwide.

Other names that may be considered for high-level EPA positions are Ian Bowles, the well-regarded former head of energy and environmental affairs in Massachusetts, and Jared Blumenfeld, California's secretary for environmental protection. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) may also be considered for a role at the EPA or elsewhere. But taking a job in the federal government would mean he would have to leave the West Coast's Washington — where he was just reelected to a third term.

Interior Department

  • Tom Udall: The senator from New Mexico is retiring from Congress his year, but has said he would consider joining the Biden administration. In recent years, Udall has been a loud advocate for conserving 30 percent of U.S. lands and waters by the end of the decade and funding the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The choice would also be a nostalgic one; his father, Stewart Udall, was secretary of the department from 1961 to 1969 under two Democratic presidents.
  • Deb Haaland: Of the New Mexicans being considered for the job, the congresswomen from the state's 1st Congressional District has the least experience in Congress, being first elected in 2018. But picking her would be historic. Haaland, an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Laguna, would be the first Native American to run the department charged with overseeing federal and tribal lands.
  • Martin Heinrich: A member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, New Mexico's other senator is also a proponent of clean energy and public land protections. One complicating factor for any of the state's Cabinet hopefuls: If New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) becomes health and human services secretary, that might give Biden's team pause about elevating another New Mexican to the Cabinet.

Other names being floated include Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee; and Michael L. Connor, former deputy secretary at the department under Obama.

Energy Department

  • Arun Majumdar: A professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford, Majumdar served as the first director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. The office, which is an incubator for nascent energy technologies, has enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress, which may bode well for his chances of being confirmed by the Senate.
  • Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall: This former deputy energy secretary under Obama was once a Rhodes Scholar and is now a professor at Georgia Tech. Under Bill Clinton, she also served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia.
  • Dan Reicher: Now at Stanford, Reicher has had several roles at the Energy Department, including chief of staff, assistant secretary at the energy efficiency and renewable energy office, and a member of Obama's Energy Department transition team. He also once led climate and alternative energy initiatives at Google and helped raise money for Biden during the campaign.
  • Ernest Moniz: Known for his eye-catching hair, Obama's former energy secretary played an important role hammering out the details of the nuclear weapons deal with Iran. Though Trump abandoned the deal, Biden wants to rejoin it. A nuclear physicist and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, he informally advised the Biden team during the campaign.

Outside of those departments, Biden may also create a new White House office focused on climate change. Among those who may become Biden's climate “czar” are Ali Zaidi, a top climate adviser to New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D); Jake Sullivan, a longtime Democratic foreign policy adviser; and Adewale “Wally” Adeyemo, currently president of the Obama Foundation. 

Stef Feldman, a Biden campaign policy director who helped put together the candidate's climate plan, is also likely to advise the new administration on environmental policy. And Jason Bordoff, a former special assistant to Obama on energy and climate issues now at Columbia, is in the running for a high-level position, too.

And should he be picked to run the State or Defense Department, John F. Kerry would elevate the issue of climate change. During the Democratic primary, the former secretary of state went to bat for Biden in Iowa when his candidacy was flagging. As secretary of state under Obama, he helped broker the Paris climate accord.

Correction: The original version of this story said that Dan Reicher was head of Barack Obama's Energy Department transition team. He was a member of the team, but did not lead it.

Power plays

The White House taps a second controversial scientist to steer U.S. climate report.

The Trump administration has detailed newly installed National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief scientist Ryan Maue to the White House, where he will play a key oversight role at the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which carries out the federal government’s definitive report on climate change. Maue will join climate contrarian David Legates, who was installed as the executive director for program last week, our colleagues Andrew Freedman, Juliet Eilperin and Jason Samenow.

Although Legates has claimed that excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere helps plants and that global warming is harmless, Maue’s views “are closer to the mainstream consensus,” Freedman and Samenow report. Maue, however, has questioned findings linking extreme weather events and climate change, argued that more emphasis should be placed on uncertainty in climate modeling projections and occasionally sounded off with now-deleted tweets attacking scientists and politicians.

“It’s unclear how much headway Maue and Legates can make in shaping the next report" since most of the work will happen under Biden. “Federal scientists, environmental groups, and lawmakers fear the duo could derail and set back the climate assessment before President Trump leaves office.”

Some scientists, however, say it’s unlikely there would be much lasting impact from the appointments given the slow speed of the federal bureaucracy and checks and balances built into the program.

Opposition from environmentalists to Ernest Moniz grows.

More than 80 green groups, led by the Friends of the Earth, wrote a letter to the Biden transition team urging it not to pick the former energy secretary to join the administration. Noting that he is on the board of Southern Co., a gas and electric utility, they write that “Mr. Moniz’s employment and financial ties situate him firmly in the revolving door between government and fossil fuel corporations.”

The Trump administration is rushing drilling leases in the Arctic.

The Interior Department could set a call for public input on which land tracts should be opened for oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as soon as today, as the Trump administration pushes to get sales in place before Biden takes office, Bloomberg News reports. The administration is also fast-tracking seismic testing for oil and gas in the refuge.

“Biden has pledged to permanently protect the refuge, saying drilling there would be a ‘big disaster.’ But those efforts could be complicated if the Trump administration sells drilling rights first,” Bloomberg writes.

Interior Department grants state and local governments veto power over land purchases.

The new order from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, published on Friday, applies to land purchased through the Land and Water Fund. Trump signed into law in August a bill that solidified more than $900 million a year for the fund, but now critics say the new order “kneecaps a conservation effort that President Trump routinely campaigned on,” the Hill reports.

Under the new role, governors and even county commissioners would need to sign off on any federal purchases of private land for the purpose of creating parks, trails or other conservation areas.

“It’s a clear interference with private property rights,” Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities, told the Hill. “They're trying to give every county commission and governor in the country veto power over private land owners who want to sell their land to the government at fair market rates.”

Arizona regulators approve a plan requiring electric companies to provide 100% carbon-free energy by 2050.

The clean energy rules approved on Friday put in place a series of benchmarks for utilities to increase energy efficiency and cut carbon emissions, including a requirement to cut emissions in half by 2032. the Arizona Republic reports. Environmentalists praised the vote as an important step for advancing clean energy in the state.

“But because of some last-minute dealmaking to ensure the rules get three needed votes to become effective next year, they do not include a requirement for utilities to use a set amount of renewable energy, such as solar and wind, to reach the carbon goals,” the Arizona Republic writes. That means that utilities could meet the requirements through relying on nuclear power or energy-efficiency measures.

This year’s race for the Arizona Corporation Commission drew attention from environmentalists, including $6.3 million in funding from former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, who backed a slate of three Democratic candidates for open seats on the commission.

Don't feed the bears

Tourists in Lake Tahoe are leaving trash and feeding bears, and locals are fed up.

Businesses around Lake Tahoe initially worried that the pandemic would lead to a sharp drop-off in tourism, but with many people seeking more outdoor recreation during the pandemic and, for many Northern California residents, relief from wildfire smoke, tourism has been strong. The only problem: Observers say that “the vacationers who arrived in droves were not Tahoe’s typical tourists,” Erika Mailman writes for The Post. “Some seemed unfamiliar with wilderness protocols, which include packing out trash, protecting pristine natural elements such as trees and boulders, and not feeding the bears,” she writes.

Locals say they are seeing more people coming in for day trips or as part of longer road trips. Those people often seemed unprepared for the fact that Tahoe is bear country. Calls to a 24-hour hotline for bear issues skyrocketed. A surge in vandalism, meanwhile, has resulted in trees and ancient boulders being spray painted. Over the summer some locals protested, holding signs saying “tourists go away” and “don’t trash Tahoe.”