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Joe Biden

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at the White House in Washington, D.C., on August 5, 2021. (Photo: Win McNamee/AFP via Getty Images)

460+ Groups Demand Biden Pick a Climate Champion for Key Energy Position

"Choosing a FERC nominee that will reject new fossil fuel development would be a strong sign that Biden intends to take our climate crisis seriously."

Jessica Corbett

With U.S. West plagued by raging wildfires and scientists warning of what the future holds on a rapidly heating planet, more than 460 advocacy groups on Friday urged President Joe Biden to choose a climate champion for a key federal energy post—and gave him three potential candidates.

"We need a new FERC commissioner who will center science, justice, and equity, and end the era of dirty gas and other fossil fuels."
—466 groups

Echoing a letter backed by over 320 groups in June, the environmental justice, faith, and youth organizations address the importance of the appointee who will replace Neil Chatterjee, a Republican who recently left the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

"The climate emergency is worsening each day, and communities of color and low-wealth communities are disproportionately bearing the brunt of toxic fossil fuel pollution, crushing energy burdens, and climate disasters," the new letter (pdf) notes.

Like the June letter, the groups highlight the International Energy Agency's recent report that concluded fossil fuels must stay in the ground to meet the Paris agreement's 1.5°C temperature target, and that "FERC has the power to approve or deny permits for new pipelines and export facilities."

Given the federal agency's authority—and how it relates to actions scientists say are necessary to prevent climate catastrophe—the groups ask Biden to "appoint an environmental and energy justice champion who can be instrumental in transforming our fossil fuel and racist energy system into a renewable, resilient, and just one through FERC authorities."

Daniel Blackman, Marquita Bradshaw, and Nidhi Thakar "are examples of the type of leadership on environmental and energy justice that your next nominee for FERC commissioner must embody," the letter says. "We encourage the White House to widen its search, include these candidates, and consider the implications of a transformative choice for FERC commissioner."

According to the groups, any potential commissioner must commit to:

  • Opposing new and phasing out existing fossil fuels and false solutions like gas and carbon capture and sequestration;
  • Championing and integrating renewable energy onto the grid, particularly decentralized systems like rooftop and community solar and storage that advance energy democracy and climate resilience; and
  • Ensuring that issues of environmental, energy, and ecological justice pervade all of the commission's decision-making, including open and transparent public processes led by a fully staffed and funded Office of Public Participation.

"Your decision regarding the next FERC commissioner will have profound and lasting consequences, especially until 2030 as we near the scientific deadline to avoid climate catastrophe," the groups tell Biden. "We need a new FERC commissioner who will center science, justice, and equity, and end the era of dirty gas and other fossil fuels."

In a statement Friday, representatives for some of the organizations that signed on to the letter not only echoed its demands, but also pointed to the president's promises about climate action and called out FERC for its troubling track record on fossil fuels.

"If President Biden is serious about achieving 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035, he must look beyond the industry insiders and utility sympathizers who got us into the climate crisis," said Drew Hudson, senior national organizer at Friends of the Earth.

FERC "needs to stop being a rubber-stamp agency for gas industry expansion," declared Beyond Extreme Energy organizer Ted Glick, "and it needs to upgrade the electrical grid to rapidly advance renewables and battery storage."

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, warned that "after six months in office, President Biden's climate and environmental platform hangs in the balance."

"If he doesn't act decisively now, he could doom us to a future of unlivable climate chaos," she said. "Choosing a FERC nominee that will reject new fossil fuel development would be a strong sign that Biden intends to take our climate crisis seriously."

Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network agreed that selecting a visionary climate champion for the agency could send a crucial message to impacted communities.

The impacts of the fossil fuel industries "are putting our people in prison," said Goldtooth, specifically noting Enbridge's Line 3 pipeline. "A justice-based FERC candidate could be a first step in showing good faith on meeting the unmet promises of the Biden administration."

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