Vice President Kamala Harris shared some advice with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan last year, following the passage of the Biden administration’s comprehensive healthcare, tax, and climate legislation by Congress.
Regan recounted that Harris had told him in her West Wing office, “Communities that are disadvantaged and low-income are the ones directly affected by climate impacts.” This conversation took place as Regan was preparing to allocate billions of dollars as part of President Joe Biden’s climate agenda.
“This presents an opportunity not only to address and mitigate climate impacts but also to foster economic development and rebuild our communities,” Regan recalled Harris advising him.
Although Harris’ counsel was specifically related to distributing funds for the EPA program now known as the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund – a $20 billion clean energy loan initiative funded by the Inflation Reduction Act – aides reveal that this perspective has been conveyed throughout the administration in private conversations. Many officials across the administration have collaborated on determining how to allocate the $750 billion from the law.
This approach provides a glimpse of the message Harris will convey in her public engagements concerning climate, as the administration intensifies its efforts to promote the Inflation Reduction Act to the public. Recent polls indicate that many voters remain unaware of the content of this extensive legislation.
Dr. Ike Irby, Harris’ chief climate adviser, shared, “She recognizes the vice presidency’s capacity to facilitate agencies’ collaboration to ensure efficient utilization of resources and expertise. Her aim is to ensure that communities previously excluded gain from these investments.”
The vice president is anticipated to have a busy schedule of climate-related events, including interactions with students and young voters, as well as private sector announcements and ceremonial openings.
On Tuesday, the vice president visited Seattle for an event focused on clean energy, alongside Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, who is a supporter of Harris. During this event, Harris expressed the administration’s full support for Hawaii residents impacted by catastrophic wildfires on Maui. She emphasized, “The urgency to address climate change is evident and time is running out.”
Granholm commented, “Harris is a strong advocate for marginalized and disadvantaged communities that have borne the brunt of infrastructure that has negatively affected them.”
This event was part of a broader White House effort to highlight the one-year anniversary of the Inflation Reduction Act’s passage. Harris, along with other senior officials, embarked on nationwide travels to commemorate this occasion.
However, despite increased travel and outreach, a recent Washington Post-UMD poll revealed that 71% of Americans have heard “little” or “nothing at all” about the legislation, even one year after its enactment. Consequently, Harris’ gradual transition to a more prominent role in advocating for the bill’s merits is well-timed.
“She has participated in numerous ceremonial events,” remarked a climate advocate. However, they pointed out that the administration’s strategy of organizing tours featuring cabinet secretaries and the vice president is not effectively conveying the message.
White House senior adviser John Podesta has primarily overseen the implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act. Podesta, a long-time Democratic operative and former top climate adviser to former President Barack Obama, collaborates closely with White House climate adviser Ali Zaidi and the US Treasury Department. The Treasury Department is tasked with providing guidance on the law’s climate provisions, including clean energy tax credits.
Granholm, who is also involved in implementation, discussed her conversations with Harris in January about equitable distribution. “She has shown significant interest in the ‘how,'” Granholm noted. “How do we ensure that 40% of the investments from the Inflation Reduction Act benefit disadvantaged, marginalized, and rural communities that have been left behind?”
Granholm referred to the administration’s environmental justice program, Justice40, which aims to allocate 40% of specific federal investment benefits to communities disproportionately affected by pollution.
In addition to her official engagements, the vice president has held private events with external advocates, such as an Earth Day celebration with climate and environmental justice leaders and members of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.
Yoca Arditi-Rocha, executive director at the CLEO Institute, shared that Harris’ team has maintained open communication. Arditi-Rocha met Harris last year when she announced federal funding to protect coastal cities from rising sea levels and storms. Harris’ office has actively reached out to engage with the community.
During one of her visits to Miami, Harris showed significant interest in a fellowship offered by the CLEO Institute to empower women of color addressing the impacts of climate change. She wrote a congratulatory note to a woman who completed the course, expressing her admiration for such leadership.
Harris’ association with the CLEO Institute exemplifies how she has cultivated relationships with key stakeholders in the realm of climate.
Harris has participated in over 15 events and meetings to highlight the provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act. A notable focus has been engaging with students at college campuses and high schools, aiming to directly communicate the administration’s climate efforts to motivated consumers, particularly young voters.
Mariah Rosensweig, a freshman at the University of Colorado Boulder, was one of 15 students who privately met with Harris after a major climate event in Colorado earlier this year. Rosensweig recalled, “She attentively listened to each student and provided thoughtful responses.”
Advocates underscore that Harris has deliberately increased her public engagement on climate over the past year, building on her long-standing commitment to climate advocacy dating back to her tenure as a district attorney in San Francisco.
Jamal Raad, co-founder of climate and clean energy group Evergreen Action, acknowledged Harris’ enhanced focus on climate, stating, “She has elevated her efforts to champion climate as a central part of her brand and focal point. To her credit, she has genuinely stepped up in terms of public communication about the Inflation Reduction Act.”