With eye on climate change, Biden filling environmental, interior posts

President-elect Joe Biden intends to select Michael Regan (left) as Environmental Protection Agency chief and Deb Haaland as interior secretary. PHOTOS: NYTIMES

WILMINGTON, DELAWARE (REUTERS) - President-elect Joe Biden tapped North Carolina's top environmental regulator, Michael Regan, as US Environmental Protection Agency chief and Democratic congresswoman Deb Haaland as interior secretary as he builds his team to combat climate change and safeguard the environment.

If confirmed by the Senate, Regan would become the first Black person to run the EPA and Haaland would become the first Native American Cabinet secretary, adding to a historically diverse incoming Democratic administration.

Their nominations were announced by Biden's transition team in a statement on Thursday (Dec 17).

Also on Thursday, a top Biden adviser, US Representative Cedric Richmond, tested positive for the coronavirus after briefly interacting with Biden earlier this week when the president-elect was campaigning on behalf of Democratic US Senate candidates in Georgia.

Their encounter was in open air and both men were wearing masks, the transition team said, meaning Biden was not in "close contact" as defined by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Biden tested negative for Covid-19 on Thursday.

Richmond will quarantine for two weeks.

Regan and Haaland are among the key officials, also including the secretaries of energy and transportation and the head of a new office leading domestic climate policy coordination at the White House, in Biden's bid to make US policy greener after four years of Republican Donald Trump's presidency.

"This brilliant, tested, trailblazing team will be ready on day one to confront the existential threat of climate change with a unified national response rooted in science and equity," Biden said in a statement.

Biden plans to pursue a goal of moving the United States to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 - a once-unimaginable task that would require the world's second-largest emitter to overhaul major parts of its economy, from cars, trucks and planes to power plants, farms and buildings.

Biden's focus on climate marks a sharp change from Trump's administration, which had Washington exit the Paris climate accord and work to soften or dismantle climate regulations the administration deemed harmful to the economy.

The Interior Department employs more than 70,000 people across the United States and oversees more than 20 per cent of the nation's surface, including national parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite.

Haaland has said she would seek to expand renewable energy production on federal land to fight climate change, and undo Trump's focus on bolstering fossil fuels output.

"A voice like mine has never been a Cabinet secretary or at the head of the Department of Interior," Haaland said on Twitter. "Growing up in my mother's Pueblo household made me fierce. I'll be fierce for all of us, our planet, and all of our protected land. I am honored and ready to serve."

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