President Joe Biden on Friday named John Podesta, the influential Democratic operative and consultant, as his senior adviser for clean energy innovation ― a role in which Podesta will oversee distribution of the nearly $370 billion in climate and clean energy investments included in the landmark package that Democrats passed into law last month.
Podesta will also replace Gina McCarthy as chair of the White House’s National Climate Task Force, which spearheads the administration’s climate and emissions reduction targets. McCarthy is set to step down as Biden’s top domestic climate adviser on Sept. 16, after nearly two years on the job. McCarthy’s deputy, Ali Zaidi, will succeed her in that role.
The shakeup in climate leadership at the White House comes just weeks after Democrats ― following months of seemingly dead-end talks ― passed a scaled-down, $740 billion reconciliation package. The so-called Inflation Reduction Act includes $369 billion in climate and clean energy spending, the most significant investment the U.S. has ever made to confront the mounting, disastrous effects of climate change.
“The Inflation Reduction Act is the biggest step forward on clean energy and climate in history, and it paves the way for additional steps we will take to meet our clean energy and climate goals,” Biden said in a statement announcing his new climate team.
Biden applauded McCarthy and Zaidi for leading the administration’s climate agenda, and said Podesta’s “deep roots in climate and clean energy policy and his experience at senior levels of government mean we can truly hit the ground running to take advantage of the massive clean energy opportunity in front of us.”
Podesta’s career in Washington spans decades and multiple Democratic administrations and candidacies. He served as former President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff, was a top climate adviser of former President Barack Obama, and chaired former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016. He is also the founder and current board chairman of the left-leaning Center for American Progress.
Podesta told New York Times reporter Lisa Friedman on Friday that the job with the Biden administration “was worth coming out of retirement for.”
“The transformation of the energy economy is going to be the biggest thing economically that is happening in this country,” he said. “If people are going to feel this in their daily lives, it’s going to be because they’ve got a good job, they’re paying less for energy, they’re breathing cleaner air and their children have a future that is not blighted by the threat of climate change.”
The Inflation Reduction Act includes more than 100 provisions aimed at slashing planet-warming carbon emissions, jump-starting clean energy jobs and lowering electricity costs. It provides $30 billion in incentives for companies to manufacture solar panels, wind turbines and batteries, and to process critical minerals; $60 billion to confront legacy pollution and invest in low-income communities and communities of color; $27 billion for a so-called “green bank” to boost clean energy and slash emissions; $10 billion in tax credits for the construction of new clean technology manufacturing facilities; up to $20 billion in loans to build clean vehicle manufacturing plants; and $500 million in Defense Production Act funds for heat pumps and critical minerals processing.
Three independent analyses found that the law, which Biden signed in mid-August, could curb U.S. carbon emissions by 40% or more below 2005 levels by the end of the decade.
Jamal Raad, co-founder and executive director of the climate group Evergreen Action, said “no one knows how to pull the levers of government better than John Podesta.”
“Great news he’s going back in to get money out the door to build our clean energy future,” Raad wrote in a post to Twitter.
Environmental groups also commended McCarthy for helping boost U.S. climate action. McCarthy, a former Environmental Protection Agency chief under Obama, was tapped as Biden’s domestic climate czar in December 2020. She’s played a key role in the Biden administration’s efforts to undo Trump-era environmental rollbacks and advance policies to rein in greenhouse gas emissions.
“She has created a model for ― and embraced ― a whole-of-government approach to climate action, ensuring that climate change is considered in every aspect of governance, ranging from transportation to security to economic opportunity,” Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement.
Alexander C. Kaufman contributed to this report.