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With eye on climate change, Biden filling environmental, interior posts

WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) -President-elect Joe Biden plans to nominate North Carolina’s top environmental regulator as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief and a Democratic congresswoman as interior secretary as he pursues policies to combat climate change and safeguard the environment.

FILE PHOTO: Doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine are ready to be administered at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., December 16, 2020. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Biden intends to select Michael Regan as EPA administrator, three sources with knowledge of the discussions said on Thursday. If confirmed by the Senate, Regan would become the first Black person to run the EPA, adding to a historically diverse incoming Democratic administration.

The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Regan was in the final stages of being vetted by Biden’s team.

A source confirmed on Thursday that Democratic Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico has been picked to be Biden’s interior secretary. If confirmed, she would become the first Native American Cabinet secretary. The department’s jurisdiction includes tribal lands.

They are among the key officials, also including the secretaries of energy and transportation and the head of a new office leading domestic climate policy coordination at the White House, in Biden’s bid to make U.S. policy greener after four years of Republican Donald Trump’s presidency.

Biden plans to pursue a goal of moving the United States to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 – a once-unimaginable task that would require the world’s second-largest emitter to overhaul major parts of its economy, from cars, trucks and planes to power plants, farms and buildings.

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Biden’s focus on confronting climate change marks a sharp change from Trump’s administration, which had the United States exit the Paris climate accord and the federal government work to soften or dismantle climate regulations deemed harmful to the economy.

The Interior Department employs more than 70,000 people across the United States and oversees more than 20% of the nation’s surface, including national parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite. Haaland has said she would seek to expand renewable energy production on federal land to help fight climate change, and undo Trump’s focus on bolstering fossil fuels output.

SPOTLIGHT ON THE PANDEMIC

Biden, who is set to take office on Jan. 20, has also vowed to make the fight against the coronavirus that has killed nearly 310,000 Americans a top priority. He will be contending with the logistical challenges of a mass inoculation as well as overcoming some skepticism about the vaccine’s efficacy and safety among the general public.

A vaccine made by Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech SE is expected to become widely available next year.

Biden will publicly get vaccinated next week, according to transition officials. At age 78, Biden is in the high-risk group for COVID-19, which has proven particularly dangerous among the elderly.

Vice President Mike Pence, who has headed the White House coronavirus task force, will receive the vaccine in public on Friday, the highest-profile recipient to date.

Trump will get the vaccine when his medical team decides it is best, according to the White House.

Trump, who frequently downplayed the severity of the pandemic and feuded with top U.S. public health officials, was hospitalized in October after testing positive for COVID-19.

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All over the United States, doctors, nurses and delivery people are wrestling with challenges in the vaccine rollout including delays, anxiety and keeping the vaccine at just the right level of cold.

A panel of outside advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to endorse emergency use of a second vaccine by Moderna Inc in a meeting on Thursday.

Many Americans remain skeptical. Only 61% of respondents in a Reuters/Ipsos poll, conducted from Dec. 2 to 8, said they were open to getting vaccinated.

That is short of the 70% level that public health officials have said is needed to reach herd immunity – achieved when a large portion of a given population is immune to a disease – either through exposure or vaccination. Roughly 5% of Americans are believed to have been infected by the novel coronavirus.

Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Wilmington, Delaware, and Jarrett Renshaw in Philadelphia, additional reporting by Andy Sullivan, Laura Sanicola, Steve Gorman and Steve Holland; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Scott Malone, Noeleen Walder and Alistair Bell

https://static.reuters.com/resources/r/?m=02&d=20201217&t=2&i=1544941718&r=LYNXMPEGBG0UE&w=800

Source: Reuters

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