President-elect Joe Biden has started to assemble his environmental transition team that will help staff some of the most important roles within his administration, including administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency. Whoever lands the job will be figuring things out largely on their own, because it appears that the Trump administration has no intention of helping their replacements ease into their new roles. According to the Associated Press, Trump's refusal to concede the election has also led to his administration refusing to cooperate with the Biden transition team.
On Tuesday, the Biden camp announced on its website a list of agency review teams that will help guide the transition process so the incoming administration can hit the ground running. Leading the way on the EPA's transition plan is Patrice Simms, the vice president of the environmental law organization EarthJustice. Simms, who is a former counsel to the Environment and Natural Resources Division at the Justice Department under the Obama administration, is quite familiar with the Trump era EPA. His organization filed 50 lawsuits against the administration in order to stop their attempts to undo environmental protections. EarthJustice has won more than 80 percent of its challenges of Trump policy.
Leading Biden's Council on Environmental Quality is Dr. Cecilia Martinez, the co-founder of the Center for Earth, Energy, and Democracy. Martinez has been a leading voice for environmental justice and has highlighted how polluters disproportionately harm communities of color, low-income households, and indigenous people. She will help staff the executive team that will coordinate environmental efforts between the White House and federal agencies.
While Biden's team is certainly more than qualified to put together a staff that will take tackling climate change seriously, they won't have the luxury of cooperation from their predecessors, as the Trump administration has expressed zero interest in relinquishing the reins of power thus far. According to the AP, on a call earlier this week for EPA employees, administrators told their staffers that there was no information available yet on how to handle the transition process. Employees across the administration have been informed not to go seeking other work, and if they are found looking for new opportunities, they will be fired.
The feet dragging taking place within the EPA, which has suffered significant budget cuts and ill-equipped leadership from fossil fuel lobbyists put in charge of the agency under Trump, isn't quite as bad as other parts of the government. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has (maybe kinda jokingly) stated that he is expecting a "smooth transition to a second Trump administration." The administrator of the General Services Administration, the agency in charge of handling the transition process, which includes handing over documents and funding for the process and getting incoming officials the access they need to do their jobs, has thus far refused to acknowledge the results of the election and has blocked Biden's team from receiving any of the materials it needs for the transition.
There's a bit of irony in the Trump administration's refusal to participate in the transition process. This is the government staffed by people who claim to want to cut through red tape, who have derided government obstruction. Now here they are, using their position in government to obstruct.
Things likely won't get much easier once the Biden administration takes office. The Senate will likely be controlled by Republicans, and they are expected to create a unified front to block anything that Biden might hope to accomplish in his first term. There's an absolute mess of environmental policies put in place by the Trump administration that will have to be addressed, and there may be some resistance from Trump-era holdovers, who are just as skeptical about science as Trump himself. Still, there is plenty that the Biden administration can accomplish, with or without help along the way.