Biden's energy and climate appointments: A return to 'the swamp'

Biden's energy and climate appointments: A return to 'the swamp'
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Media outlets were buzzing with reports that President-elect Biden has selected Michigan’s former governor, Jennifer GranholmJennifer GranholmOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Internal watchdog to probe Trump officials who cast doubt on climate science | Kerry on climate talks: 'I regret that my country has been absent' | Biden leans on Obama-era appointees on climate This week: Senate stuck in limbo Biden leans on Obama-era appointees on climate MORE, to head the Department of Energy. They also note that Biden has selected former Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerryOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Internal watchdog to probe Trump officials who cast doubt on climate science | Kerry on climate talks: 'I regret that my country has been absent' | Biden leans on Obama-era appointees on climate Kerry on climate talks: 'I regret that my country has been absent' Biden must wait weekend for State Department pick MORE to serve as special presidential envoy for climate change, and former EPA administrator Gina McCarthyGina McCarthyBiden faces tall order in uniting polarized nation Biden to rejoin Paris agreement, revoke Keystone XL permit  Biden to sign flurry of executive actions in first hours of presidency MORE to be his national climate adviser. Green groups appear to be ecstatic that Biden will be aggressive on climate, but these appointments look more like a return to “the swamp” than a statement of serious concern about environmental issues.

The selections of Granholm, McCarthy and Kerry demonstrate that the Biden administration intends to cover special favors for government insiders with a smear of symbolic climate concerns. Bringing these three back into the inner halls of power will ensure continued crony capitalist deals for politically-connected businesses, reopen the revolving door between the offices of government and powerful green special interests, and ensure that Washington elites continue to enjoy the comforts and wealth denied to many Americans. 

John Kerry’s troubled credibility with energy was amusingly critiqued in a recent social media meme that pictures the future czar stepping out of his personal jet. The meme claims Kerry owns six houses, 12 cars, two yachts, and a private jet. Regardless of Kerry’s actual real estate or other holdings, the optics of Biden’s climate czar deplaning from his wife’s personal jet, while claiming that climate mitigation measures will require you to ride public transit, should not be lost on the average American.


Kerry’s own words best portray the futility of appointing him as climate czar. In a 2015 statement to the United Nations COP-21 climate conference in Paris, Kerry stated, “If all the industrial nations went down to zero emissions … it wouldn’t be enough, not when more than 65 percent of the world’s carbon pollution comes from the developing world.”

As for revolving doors, Gina McCarthy is the perfect example of the relationship between senior government institutions and powerful, well-funded environmental organizations. While a senior government appointee coming from an industry background is loudly decried by many media and environmental interests, the apparent return of the so-called “NRDC mafia” to Washington is lauded as the U.S. getting “back on task.” 

Such descriptions are especially appropriate in this case. McCarthy served as EPA administrator in the Obama administration from 2013 to 2017, and in early 2020, she took up the lead position at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Now, she is expected to return to a senior role in the Biden administration.

And finally, Jennifer Granholm. As the Mackinac Center’s news source, Michigan Capitol Confidential, reported in dozens of stories throughout her term, Granholm made determined attempts to make Michigan a center for advanced manufacturing. But her efforts turned the state into “the epicenter of government subsidized [green] failures” and the location of half of the nation’s top green energy failures that were supported by the Obama stimulus. 

Granholm’s record is one of working closely with the Obama administration to offer multiple billions of dollars in targeted grants and special tax provisions to politically favored green industries. Granholm sold those special deals as essential to “replacing our dwindling manufacturing jobs with cleantech and renewable energy jobs.” But her actions chronically oversold potential jobs numbers and effectively ensured a string of Michigan-based Solyndra reruns.


Almost $50 million in federal and state grants went to a biomass-to-ethanol production facility that was never built. Her administration oversaw the approval of $17.3 million in state tax credits to create thin-film solar. But instead of creating the promised 700 jobs, the company that received the tax credits went broke. Granholm also loaded millions of dollars in tax breaks and government stimulus onto solar power producers, hybrid-electric manufacturing and an advanced battery plant. All went bankrupt within a few years.

Far from relying on a top team of climate and environmental experts, these three key personnel moves indicate that the Biden administration’s primary focus will be on a pastiche of green symbolism over substance. The end result of the incoming administration’s efforts will be little more than enhancing the lifestyles of powerful and wealthy Washington insiders as they funnel billions of taxpayer dollars to well-connected and politically favored green industry interests.

Jason Hayes is director of environmental policy at the Mackinac Center in Midland, Mich. Follow him on Twitter @jasonthayes.