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Yesterday President-elect Joe Biden announced former South Bend mayor and 2020 presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg as his nominee for Transportation Secretary. Buttigieg would be one of the youngest cabinet secretaries and the first openly gay person to lead a federal agency.
According to the Biden transition, if confirmed, Buttigieg would help move the President’s agenda of “rebuilding modern, sustainable infrastructure nationwide, creating millions of good-paying union jobs, and tackling the climate crisis by helping to deliver an equitable clean energy future.” Goals that Buttigieg helped enact in South Bend during his tenure as mayor.
Why This Matters: As a presidential contender Buttigieg focused his climate message on the opportunity to deliver jobs, saying at our Climate Forum 2020 that he would “work hard to engage workers in industry and make sure that they can picture a role in this transition besides that of victim“–which is very much in line with Biden’s climate messaging.
Moreover, since transportation is the single greatest source of emissions in the United States, the Department of Transportation can become a critical agency in the fight against climate change. Buttigieg’s leadership and remarkable messaging skills will be an important asset in this goal.
Also worth noting is that the Washington Post and New York Times respectively reported that former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm will be asked to serve as Energy Secretary and former EPA administrator Gina McCarthy as a senior White House adviser on climate change.
Pete on Climate: At our forum in September of 2019, Buttigieg said that,
“This is one of those moments like many moments in American history–really pivotal ones like the American Revolution, the struggle for civil rights–it may be that of all the things we’re doing right now, the thing we’re going to be remembered for, will boil down to where we were on [the issue of climate change].”
As a leader he understands the complexity of the challenge at hand yet is also uniquely attuned to the difficulty of selling rural and white Americans on climate solutions. If confirmed, Buttigieg will be a secretary to watch for his building of inroads with these constituents to implement things like electric vehicle charging infrastructure, requiring far more stringent fuel economy standards, and helping build better transit systems.
Hot take from Carnegie Mellon professor Costa Samaras about how else DOT can move the needle on climate action and environmental justice:
Transportation infrastructure decisions have long contributed to environmental injustices that disproportionately affect communities of color. We can't repeat the past. The next transportation system has to be clean, safe, accessible, equitable, and just. [Video: The Guardian] pic.twitter.com/w83OVbMLom
The Reaction: Most Democrats and environmental groups welcomed the announcement of Pete Buttigieg as Transportation Secretary, with Gina Coplon-Newfield, Director of SierraClub’s Clean Transportation for All campaign saying:
“Today’s historic news of Pete Buttigieg being the likely nominee for Secretary of the Department of Transportation furthers our high hopes that President-elect Biden will prioritize investment in clean transportation and infrastructure, from public transit to 100% clean vehicles. We urge Buttigieg to act swiftly on these important priorities.
After four years of failure at the Department of Transportation, the agency will finally have someone who understands the significant effect transportation emissions have on the climate crisis and communities suffering from toxic tailpipe pollution.”
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