Biden selects Pete Buttigieg as DOT Secretary, likely to pass on Mary Nichols for EPA Secretary

Lauren Michele
4 min readDec 16, 2020


This week President-elect Joe Biden made a few big decisions regarding who will be leading the nation in transportation and climate policy.

While Mary Nichols was Biden’s top choice for Environmental Protection Agency Secretary, pushback from environmental justice groups led to her likely not being selected. Mr. Biden’s team is actively looking to find someone else to fill the role, according to several people who have spoken with the presidential transition team. A global leader on climate policy, Ms. Nichols has been the chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) since 2007 and will be retiring this month. During the Obama administration, it was Ms. Nichols who helped broker a deal with the federal government and the nation’s largest automakers, which took California’s stringent regulations on greenhouse gas emissions and applied them nationwide. “California is at the forefront of actions anywhere in the nation and the world to direct attention and funding to underfunded communities,” Nichols told the New York Times in an interview last week.

In 2013, California implemented the first state-level, economy-wide cap-and-trade program in the United States. This allowance program nets the State billions of dollars, which are then spent on a diverse variety of greenhouse gas reduction programs called California Climate Investments (CCI). Fifty-seven percent of the revenue collected from cap-and-trade credits, or $3.5 billion, has been spent on disadvantaged and low-income communities most affected by industrial emissions — substantially more than the 35 percent required by state law, according to CARB.

President-elect Joe Biden announced Tuesday that he has selected former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, to lead the U.S. Department of Transportation. Mr. Buttigieg is expected to play a prominent role in the incoming Biden administration’s push to rebuild the nation’s roads and bridges. Mr. Biden issued a statement that said he had chosen Mr. Buttigieg “because this position stands at the nexus of so many of the interlocking challenges and opportunities ahead of us. Jobs, infrastructure, equity, and climate all come together at the DOT.”

Mr. Buttigieg campaigned on an infrastructure plan that would cut 50% of the backlog of critical road repairs by 2030 and repair 50% of structurally deficient bridges by 2030. Selected over former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to receive the nomination, he was one of the few 2020 presidential contenders to promote replacing the gas tax with a vehicle-miles-traveled alternative that would tax drivers based on their road mileage. Mr. Buttigieg has said that the gas tax is “not a viable long-term funding mechanism for our highways” and that he will require DOT to put forward a plan to implement a user fee-based system, rather than the gas tax, to fund the Highway Trust Fund.

Mr. Biden campaigned on a $2 trillion plan to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, much of it related to transportation. His climate change and infrastructure agenda includes:

  • Infrastructure: Create millions of good, union jobs rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure — from roads and bridges to green spaces and water systems to electricity grids and universal broadband — to lay a new foundation for sustainable growth, compete in the global economy, withstand the impacts of climate change, and improve public health, including access to clean air and clean water.
  • Auto Industry: Create 1 million new jobs in the American auto industry, domestic auto supply chains, and auto infrastructure, from parts to materials to electric vehicle charging stations, positioning American auto workers and manufacturers to win the 21st century; and invest in U.S. auto workers to ensure their jobs are good jobs with a choice to join a union.
  • Transit: Provide every American city with 100,000 or more residents with high-quality, zero-emissions public transportation options through flexible federal investments with strong labor protections that create good, union jobs and meet the needs of these cities — ranging from light rail networks to improving existing transit and bus lines to installing infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists.
  • Power Sector: Move ambitiously to generate clean, American-made electricity to achieve a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035. This will enable us to meet the existential threat of climate change while creating millions of jobs with a choice to join a union.
  • Buildings: Upgrade 4 million buildings and weatherize 2 million homes over 4 years, creating at least 1 million good-paying jobs with a choice to join a union; and also spur the building retrofit and efficient-appliance manufacturing supply chain by funding direct cash rebates and low-cost financing to upgrade and electrify home appliances and install more efficient windows, which will cut residential energy bills.
  • Housing: Spur the construction of 1.5 million sustainable homes and housing units.
  • Innovation: Drive dramatic cost reductions in critical clean energy technologies, including battery storage, negative emissions technologies, the next generation of building materials, renewable hydrogen, and advanced nuclear — and rapidly commercialize them, ensuring that those new technologies are made in America.
  • Agriculture and Conservation: Create jobs in climate-smart agriculture, resilience, and conservation, including 250,000 jobs plugging abandoned oil and natural gas wells and reclaiming abandoned coal, hardrock, and uranium mines — providing good work with a choice to join or continue membership in a union in hardhit communities, including rural communities, reducing leakage of toxics, and preventing local environmental damage.
  • Environmental Justice: Ensure that environmental justice is a key consideration in where, how, and with whom we build — creating good, union, middle-class jobs in communities left behind, righting wrongs in communities that bear the brunt of pollution, and lifting up the best ideas from across our great nation — rural, urban, and tribal.



Lauren Michele

Policy in Motion: Growing Beautiful Communities — Business Owner, Author, Producer. Consultant/Advisor. M.S. in Climate Change Policy.