Eye On Washington: May 2021

Dan Sealy, NEC Legislative analyst


More Biden Cabinet Members Confirmed 

President Biden boasts one of the most diverse cabinets in history. Along with strong black male and female voices, he appointed the first Native American and first openly gay cabinet members in history. Though he chose an African American/Asian American woman as his Vice President, he has met criticism by some in the Asian American communities by losing Neera Tanden’s confirmation as director of the powerful Office of Management. 


Jennifer Grandholm: Secretary of Energy 

Canadian-born Sec. Grandholm, former Governor of Michigan, was eager to assist President Biden with his energy agenda, though to some it is a little confusing. While Biden placed a moratorium on new drilling on public lands, he has also stated he is not opposed to fracking, much of which is on public lands. Of course, both of these can be true, but moving toward a carbon neutral strategy, fracking is not part of the equation. In a show of strong support for his climate change agenda, Biden appointed Sec. Grandholm, Housing and Urban Development Sec. Marcia Fudge, Labor Sec. Marty Walsh and Commerce Sec. Gina Raimondo to assist Transportation Sec. Pete Buttigieg to maneuver his infrastructure goals through Congress. 

With roots in Michigan, Sec. Grandholm would seem to be a supporter of the auto industry, but that does not preclude support she has identified to convert America’s manufacturing to electric and other sustainable sources. In fact, some predict such a conversion may lead to a much-needed economic boost. Grandholm will also play an important part in accomplishing Biden’s desire to boost offshore wind development, something conservationists are keeping a close eye on. If solving the climate crisis is conservationists’ primary goal, then wind and solar will see progress in development. A similar dilemma may face conservationists as the nuclear power industry spends more lobbying money to assure nuclear energy is in the Biden energy plan, in spite of the lack of any long-term, safe disposal site. Handing future generations an increase in radioactive waste in order to include new, very expensive nuclear energy to solve the climate crisis is, for some, a “Sophie’s Choice”, or a “rob Peter to pay Paul” moral dilemma.  


Pete Buttigieg: Secretary of Transportation

Former-mayor Pete Buttigieg made it clear during his confirmation hearings that his duty would be to help accomplish the transportation and infrastructure goals set by the President. Sec. Buttigieg’s lack of a long legislative history may actually help him communicate bipartisan transportation goals to a congress that has already signaled to the President he should expect little to no support from the Republican members. Some political pundits are predicting a new era of “pork-barrel” politics where Democrats offer locally needed large transportation projects from bridges and highway construction to airport and seaport rejuvenation, to attract individual Republican members of Congress and to keep vulnerable Democrats from opposing Biden priorities.  Sec. Buttigieg will have his hands full as he leads the cabinet team to implement what Biden is calling his “American Jobs Plan” to kickstart a damaged economy by emphasizing the retraining of American workers for new jobs based on a sustainable energy system. 

Birds Win in Court 

Perhaps a little faith is regained in the system of regulations, laws and the ability of the public (sometimes represented by national conservation organizations staffed with legal experts) to fight government attempts to abandon conservation principles. The Interior Department is expected to pay legal fees for the Center for Biological Diversity and the American Bird Conservancy who, along with the National Audubon Society, brought a lawsuit to challenge a Trump-era rollback of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The Act has protected almost all native species of birds in North American for decades.

Judge Caproni in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York  wrote that the Interior Department opinion was “simply an unpersuasive interpretation” of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and was a “sudden departure from long-held agency positions backed by over forty years of consistent enforcement practices.”

The government and winning parties have till early June to settle on the court costs, which could equal over $165,000.  More importantly the decision preserves the right of the public to enforce conservation regulations and be fairly compensated for assuring the government does its job. 


President Biden placed significant items from the “Green New Deal” first proposed by economist Thomas Friedman, but the $2.2 trillion cost of the plan is either too large or too small, depending on who you ask. Raising taxes is generally dead on arrival and with a weakened economy and reduced tax income, the federal budget will be squeezed. 

Any legislation that resembles that Green New Deal will come under fierce opposition by conservative members of Congress regardless of how popular or needed by the general public. With the passage of bills to immediately address the Covid health crisis and related economic crisis, Biden and the slightly Democratic majority Congress showed they can maneuver political minefields, but as time passes, most Presidents face more opposition and less favorability, making legislation increasingly difficult to pass. With 2022 mid-term elections looming and recent shrinking of the margin of majority in both the House and Senate, both parties will be looking to carve out election platforms across the nation by passing or thwarting legislation.