President George Washington created the Cabinet by having meetings with three advisers, but James Madison gave the group its enduring name. Today, the President’s Cabinet has expanded from three to fifteen, including the Vice President. Cabinet members determine the order of succession should the President pass away — the Secretary of State, for example, follows the Vice President — but they are also heads of their own Executive Departments. Cabinet members are nominated by the President and require a majority vote from the Senate to be confirmed.
Examples include the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy, the Department of the Interior, and Department of Transportation. The presidentially-appointed Secretaries of each Department develop, enforce, and oversee federal regulations. Because climate change touches every single aspect of our lives, the position of every government leader towards climate change has significant consequence; however, there are certain positions, like Head of the Department of Energy and the Department of Interior, where this connection is especially explicit.
It is for this reason that, on occasion, the relationship between a Cabinet member and private interests have drawn public ire. For example, it doesn’t sit well that Dan Brouillette, the current Secretary of Energy under President Trump, is a former lobbyist for Ford Motor Company. Similarly, Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt is a former lobbyist for oil and gas companies. These conflicts of interest are undoubtedly connected to the 100 environmental rollbacks that have occurred under President Trump.
Most of these rollbacks have come from the Environmental Protection Agency, currently headed by Andrew Wheeler. While the EPA Administrator is not a part of the Cabinet, the position has Cabinet-level rank, and also has regulatory power. Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, has continued trends set by former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt (also appointed by Trump and one who does not believe in scientific evidence supporting climate change) to aggressively challenge Obama-era environmental regulations. As Gina McCarthy, head of the EPA under Obama vocalized, rollbacks that allow for increased pollution exacerbate the threat of Covid-19, particularly for marginalized populations who are more likely to live in areas with poor air quality and less likely to have access to health insurance.