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Biden Climate Adviser On Ending Drilling On Federal Land

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Today President Biden signed a pile of executive orders to slow what he calls the existential threat of climate change.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: In my view, we've already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis. We can't wait any longer. We see it with our own eyes. We feel it. We know it in our bones.

SHAPIRO: He stopped oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters and set a goal of net zero carbon emissions in the U.S. by 2050. Gina McCarthy is the president's national climate adviser and a former head of the EPA.

Good to have you on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

GINA MCCARTHY: Thanks, Ari. I appreciate my being here. Thanks.

SHAPIRO: Well, this executive action pauses oil and gas leasing on federal land and water, as I said. But the vast majority of oil and gas extraction happens on private land. Is there anything the Biden administration can do about that?

MCCARTHY: Well, certainly we can but in due time, Ari. What we're trying to do is make a concerted effort to build infrastructure that makes it available to make all kinds of shifts to clean energy because clean energy really is the future. It was where jobs were growing most before we hit the economic stress that we're now feeling with COVID-19. And the whole idea is to begin this transition in a very deliberate way so that we're actually developing a strategy that's broad enough and deep enough to make a significant difference. So what you're seeing...

SHAPIRO: But industry groups...

MCCARTHY: Go ahead.

SHAPIRO: Industry groups have already said they're going to challenge some of these orders in court. And so if these policies are put on hold for years of litigation, is that going to undermine their impact?

MCCARTHY: Well, I think we certainly can expect to see some folks who don't like specific actions that are included in this. But I think if you take a look at it on the whole, this is our ability to actually make the promises that President Biden made on the campaign trail and put them into action. And they're actions that will drive good-paying union jobs. They are going to deliver on the promise of environmental justice, which we know has been challenging this country forever. And it's about time that we took care of it. And it isn't going to leave workers behind. This is actually a recognition of where the world's heading. And how do we keep up and benefit right here in the United States with the jobs and the manufacturing and the products?

SHAPIRO: Let me ask you, though, if they're going to have staying power because President Biden has spent a good part of his first week in office undoing executive actions from the Trump administration. And so as he puts these new executive actions in place...

MCCARTHY: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: I have to ask whether he thinks they will last beyond his term and whether he plans to push Congress to pass legislation that would have a longer-lasting effect.

MCCARTHY: Yeah. Well, certainly, we're going to look at congressional action. I think we're aware that the Build Back Better plan is important. But right now we can use the strength of the federal budget and our procurement opportunities to send the right market signals on the kind of technologies and products that we think we need and we know we have available now that are cost-effective and that, again, grow jobs. But look. The other two executive orders that were signed were, one, on science integrity. And the other one was on restoring a Presidential Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. We are not skirting or denying science or crafting solutions that won't work for America and haven't already been road tested in America. That's the difference. We're making...

SHAPIRO: Another difference here...

MCCARTHY: ...Evidence-based decisions.

SHAPIRO: Another difference here is a focus on racial equity.

MCCARTHY: Yes.

SHAPIRO: The president talks a lot about it, and this plan emphasizes a focus on minority communities that have traditionally suffered the worst effects of pollution. For example, he's directing the government to spend 40% of its sustainability investments on disadvantaged communities. So much of this is a result of polluting infrastructure being placed in minority communities...

MCCARTHY: Yes.

SHAPIRO: ...Whether that's landfills, mines or incinerators. So once those hazards are in a place where people live, what can you do short of closing them down?

MCCARTHY: Well, I would say that it's even beyond the fence-line and front-line communities. But we need to take action, obviously, to make sure that that clean air is clean, you know, that the communities that have been left behind are protected. So we have to take a look at those communities. But I think the issue of racism - it goes much beyond that. It's about communities that have been disinvested in and how we can begin to invest in them again. It's about where the jobs grow and how we grow them, not just in urban areas but in rural communities. It's about recognizing that the shift from coal to both oil and gas and now to clean energy is the way to go in terms of our finance and our health and our climate. But we can't leave those workers behind. So it's creating opportunities for new types of jobs where they live. And so we have a commitment here. We don't want to leave any community behind anymore. We need to recognize that we have, and we can move this forward together.

SHAPIRO: That is President Biden's new national climate adviser, Gina McCarthy.

Thank you for joining us.

MCCARTHY: Great. It's good to be here, Ari. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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