Why Joseph Goffman’s Senate Confirmation Could Be a Win for Climate Action and Equity

The decision to replace John Kerry with John Podesta as the top U.S. climate diplomat may be making headlines this week. But there’s another presidential appointee who could also have a significant impact on the nation’s efforts to address climate change but has mostly flown under the radar. 

On Wednesday, the Senate confirmed Joseph Goffman to stay on permanently as the Environmental Protection Agency’s assistant administrator, The Hill reported. Goffman had been sitting in as the agency’s acting assistant administrator since President Joe Biden took office, but a vote on his nomination was repeatedly put off because some senators refused to approve any EPA appointees. Among those causing the voting delay was Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who frequently opposed any climate-related policies.

Many environmentalists see Goffman’s confirmation as a big deal because he will be in charge of the agency’s office of air and radiation, overseeing the crafting and implementation of landmark EPA rules that aim to reduce the nation’s harmful air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. 

The Biden administration last year proposed a series of new rules aimed at drastically reducing the carbon emissions of power plants, as well as new trucks and cars. Those rules have become the EPA’s most powerful tools to slash the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. They’re also expected to be finalized this year, making the timing of Goffman’s confirmation that much more consequential.

The administration also proposed a rule that sets strict new standards for particulate matter pollution, or PM2.5, which consists of microscopic airborne particles that cause a range of serious health conditions and disproportionately affect low-income households and communities of color. That rule has long been a priority for environmental justice advocates, and federal officials expect it will prevent up to 4,200 premature deaths per year.

The new rules face broad opposition from industry groups and Republican lawmakers who say the regulations will put undue financial burdens on businesses. Many of those opponents condemned Wednesday’s outcome. But green groups praised the move, believing that Goffman won’t be swayed by the elevated lobbying efforts often deployed during a presidential election year.

“This confirmation couldn’t come at a more urgent time. As the EPA finalizes its particulate matter standard to clean up air pollution, now is the time for bold action,” Raúl García, who leads the lobbying efforts for the environmental law organization Earthjustice, said in a statement. “We’re confident that Goffman will wield the power of the Clean Air Act to improve air quality and safeguard the health and well-being of our communities.”

That trust could be well placed, considering Goffman’s environmental track record.

Before joining the Biden administration in 2021, Goffman worked as the executive director for Harvard University’s Environmental Law Program. And before that, he served under the Obama administration as the EPA’s associate assistant administrator for climate and senior counsel in the agency’s office of air and radiation. During that time, he was a chief architect of Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which aimed to set new limits on power plant emissions but was stayed by the Supreme Court in 2016 and never implemented.

Earlier in his career, Goffman authored Title IV of the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990, pioneering the use of cap and trade in the program that tackled acid rain. He played leading roles in crafting the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which regulate emissions of the toxic metal from power plants. He also helped craft federal regulations for air pollution that crosses state borders, as well as new rules that aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas facilities.

“Goffman has been called ‘EPA’s Law Whisperer’ because ‘his specialty is teaching old laws to do new tricks,” a writer for Harvard Law Today said back in 2017, noting Goffman’s reputation for attaining results.

In fact, Goffman was the lead author for the Biden administration’s landmark rules expected to be finalized this year, a fact that wasn’t lost on his supporters or critics in the Senate as they voted this week along a razor thin margin to confirm him. 

“Mr. Goffman’s actions, marked by federal overreach and job-killing regulations, have been a disaster for our country,” GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said in a floor speech on Wednesday, according to The Hill report.

EPA Administrator Michael Reagan, however, celebrated the moment, saying that Goffman is “uniquely skilled at building consensus among stakeholders and crafting policies that tackle global challenges like climate change, while at the same time addressing long standing pollution concerns in overburdened communities.”

More Top Climate News

Biden’s New Climate Envoy Faces Big Tasks at Home and Abroad: John Podesta is no stranger to climate policy, but he’ll face new challenges as he takes on dual roles in managing America’s domestic and international efforts to address global warming, E&E News reports. President Biden on Wednesday tapped Podesta to be the nation’s top climate diplomat when John Kerry exits his post as special envoy this spring. The move adds a sprawling global portfolio to Podesta’s job of overseeing the disbursement of nearly $370 billion in climate funding from the Inflation Reduction Act.

California Climate Disclosure Laws Face Possible Delay: California made history last year when it became the first state to pass new rules that force companies to divulge more information about their risks from—and contributions to—climate change. But as the state advances the disclosure rules, they’re facing several challenges, including from Gov. Gavin Newsom himself, Anne Mulkern reports for E&E News. Newsom’s current state budget proposal includes no money to implement the two rules, which would cost roughly $16 million in the first year. Activists worry it’s a sign of a forthcoming delay.

Greta Thunberg’s Trial for Blocking Fossil Fuel Conference Begins: Prominent climate activist Greta Thunberg went on trial Thursday for refusing to leave a protest that blocked the entrance to a major oil and gas industry conference in London last year, Brian Melley reports for the Associated Press. The Swedish environmentalist, who inspired the global youth climate movement, was among more than two dozen protesters arrested on Oct. 17 for preventing access to a hotel during the forum. She and four other activists are charged with violating a law that allows police to limit public assemblies. 

Today’s Indicator

14.5 million

That’s how many additional deaths a new World Economic Forum study estimates climate change will directly or indirectly cause by 2050, largely by exacerbating several human health risks simultaneously and straining global healthcare systems.

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