(CN) — President-elect Joe Biden appointed Brian Deese as a key economic adviser within his incoming administration, despite fierce opposition to Deese among some climate activists.
Deese will serve as the director of the National Economic Council, a critical advisory position in the White House intended to help the president shape the economic aspect of a policy agenda.
“Brian is among the most tested and accomplished public servants in the country — a trusted voice I can count on to help us end the ongoing economic crisis, build a better economy that deals everybody in, and take on the existential threat of climate change in a way that creates good-paying American jobs,” Biden said in a statement on Thursday.
Deese served at various economic posts in the Obama administration including as the deputy director of the National Economic Council, the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, and senior adviser to Obama.
Deese’s post-2016 career has prompted concern in activist quarters that he will be more beholden to Wall Street than the concerns of environmentalists seeking to combat climate change.
He served as an executive at BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, heading the company’s sustainable investing division which focuses on balancing profitable investments with environmental integrity.
His alliance with one of Wall Street’s largest and most recognizable firms has caused some climate activists to question whether such companies will have outsize influence in the Biden White House.
“The revolving door between Wall Street and the White House does no good for working people or the planet,” said Evan Weber, of the influential Sunrise Movement, in a statement. “There are many diverse, qualified people that can help Joe Biden and Kamala Harris ‘Build Back Better’ who didn’t choose to work at predatory investment firms.”
But other groups like the Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council have been mum about the Deese appointment. And Bill McKibben, one of the most prominent climate activists, recently voiced support for Deese.
“I know Brian to be both able and decent, and because I know he in fact does care about climate, it felt like I had to say something,” McKibben said in explaining his defense of Deese.
The League of Conservation Voters issued a statement earlier in the week, saying the importance of Deese's appointment "cannot be overstated."
"From his success in helping rebuild the American auto industry with stronger clean car standards, advancing the Paris Climate Agreement, protecting our lands and ocean and much more, he is exactly the experienced climate leader we need at President Biden’s side as they rebuild our economy," the statement said.
Deese was a key figure in negotiating the bailout of the U.S. auto industry, helping forge an deal in which automakers agreed to increase fuel efficiency in exchange for federal money necessary to stave off bankruptcy.
Biden also cited Deese’s experience in negotiating the Paris Climate Accords as grounds for the appointment.
Regarding Deese’s time at BlackRock, some argue he made substantial improvements at the firm and that market-based solutions to climate change are as, if not more, important than policy prescriptions offered by lawmakers and officials.
Larry Fink, the CEO of the firm that manages approximately $7 trillion in assets, recently pledged to make sustainability a hallmark of the firm.
“Climate risk is investment risk,” Fink wrote in a January letter to clients. “Indeed, climate change is almost invariably the top issue that clients around the world raise.”
Critics argued Fink and Deese have engaged in “greenwashing” and have fallen short in the type of meaningful action needed to address the severity of the problem.
For instance, the sustainability pledge — which forbids the company from investing in companies that produce more than 25% of its revenues from fossil fuels — only applies to actively managed assets, or about one-third of the company’s asset portfolio.
Many activists want the Biden administration to implement the Green New Deal, a policy platform introduced by Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez which calls for more aggressive government intervention into the private sector to curtail the use of fossil fuels.
But many economists — and Deese is an economist — argue working with the market rather than against it will produce the desired change without cataclysmic upheavals to the economy that could have knock-on effects for employment and household wealth.
Biden’s appointment signals that he favors the latter and will work with Wall Street rather than against it to further renewable energy and sustainability goals.
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