Biden revamps White House climate team with Podesta, Zaidi in top roles

U.S. President Joe Biden revamped his climate change team on Friday, announcing that longtime political operative and climate advocate John Podesta would join the White House and Ali Zaidi would take over for Gina McCarthy as domestic climate adviser.

Podesta, a former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton and counselor to President Barack Obama, will take on a role implementing the energy and climate parts of the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act.

Zaidi, who served as deputy to McCarthy, a former Environmental Protection Agency administrator, was promoted to become Biden's top national climate aide. McCarthy steps down on Sept. 16.

"Under Gina McCarthy and Ali Zaidi’s leadership, my administration has taken the most aggressive action ever, from historic legislation to bold executive actions, to confront the climate crisis head-on," Biden said in a statement.

Podesta's climate and government background, Biden said, "mean we can truly hit the ground running to take advantage of the massive clean energy opportunity in front of us."

Biden, a Democrat, campaigned on making climate change a top policy priority. The issue is especially important to young voters in his politically left-leaning base.

McCarthy, 68, led the charge in implementing Biden's pledge throughout the federal government.

Her departure comes just weeks after Congress passed a $430 billion package of policies aimed at combating climate change that Biden signed into law in August after months of uncertainty and roller-coaster negotiations. Securing the legislation was a key victory for the president ahead of congressional elections in November.

Zaidi said even with the law in place there was work to be done to meet Biden's goal of reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 50-52% from 2005 levels by 2030.

"We're not going to get there on autopilot, it's going to take real sweat and pushing," he told Reuters, noting the law had created certainty for business. "This is the first time that we have certainty around ... the investment environment for clean energy technologies, manufacturing and employment over the next decade."

Zaidi worked in the Obama administration for years and later served as deputy secretary for energy and environment and chair of climate policy and finance for New York state. He has been a key player, with McCarthy, in formulating and advancing Biden's climate goals.

Under McCarthy's leadership as Obama's EPA administrator, the agency devised the Clean Power Plan aimed at slashing emissions from power plants, which was later struck down by courts.

She briefly served as the head of the Natural Resources Defense Council environmental group before being tapped to join Biden's White House.

McCarthy has been the U.S.-focused counterpart to former Secretary of State John Kerry, who Biden appointed as his special international envoy on climate change.

The New York Times first reported that McCarthy's last day would be Sept. 16. Reuters was first to report in April that she planned to step down.