A pair of top incoming White House environmental aides has blamed "systemic racism" as a driver of climate change in an attempt to justify a government-led economic overhaul.
President-elect Joe Biden named progressive policy adviser Maggie Thomas as Office of Domestic Climate Policy chief of staff and climate advocate Cecilia Martinez as "senior director for environmental justice" on Thursday. Both Thomas and Martinez have cited racial inequality as perpetuating climate change, arguing that the Biden administration's environmental policy must be centered on "racial and economic justice."
Recent Stories in 2020 Election
"Unless intentionally interrupted, systemic racism will continue to be a major obstacle to creating a healthy planet," Martinez said in a 2019 press release touting her "Equitable & Just" climate platform. "The only path forward is to design national climate policies that are centered on justice."
For Thomas and Martinez, such policies require "massive" government spending and the "realignment of public dollars at all levels." Thomas's climate plan demands "trillions" in public investment—not only to "crack down" on oil production and shift away from the nation's "fossil fuel economy" but also to fund welfare programs, including rent and utility relief. Martinez's platform calls for much of the same, including increased government investment into "affordable and quality housing."
Progressives' most ambitious climate goals are likely to face congressional opposition from centrist Democrats. Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W. Va.) recently told the Washington Examiner that he would oppose a federal mandate to make utilities carbon-free within 15 years. But Biden could use executive action to implement some of his team's far-left climate-policy priorities. Thomas's climate plan, for example, calls on the president-elect to issue an executive order "on day 1" establishing a "government-wide environmental justice initiative" tasked with centering "federal environmental policy around equity, justice, and inclusion."
Power the Future founder and executive director Daniel Turner accused Biden's climate team of using "racism" and "justice" to "nationalize the nation's energy industry."
"Punishing America's energy workers will do nothing to address climate change and it will do nothing to address injustices. It will, however, cause the prices of gas and utilities to rise sharply, and that will punish the less privileged most of all," Turner told the Washington Free Beacon. "We do need to talk about housing, employment, and racism, but doing so under the pretext of energy policy will deliver muddied, expensive, and pointless legislation."
The Biden transition team did not return a request for comment.
Thomas and Martinez's climate plans in many ways mirror the Green New Deal, a $94 trillion bill introduced by progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) in 2019. The legislation calls for the "economic transformation" of the United States and aims to provide "adequate" federal housing for every American. While Biden has not explicitly endorsed the Green New Deal, he has praised the bill as "a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face" and included many of its components in his $2 trillion climate plan. The proposal, released in July 2019, pledges to "comprehensively address the most pressing, intersectional environmental justice issues" by targeting federal subsidies to minority groups.
Thomas joins the incoming Biden administration after serving as a climate-policy adviser to failed Democratic presidential candidates Jay Inslee and Elizabeth Warren. Both Inslee and Warren backed the Green New Deal during their respective campaigns. Martinez, meanwhile, served as executive director at the Center for Earth, Energy, and Democracy, an environmental nonprofit organization working to "build a deeper body of climate and energy research/analysis that fundamentally addresses racial and class justice."
Inslee praised Biden's climate team following the Thursday hires, saying the president-elect has "built an incredible team to boldly address climate change."