December 29. By Michael Sales. Ali A. Zaidi is a Pakistani-American lawyer and climate policy analyst, who will be the deputy to White House National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy. He served as one of the Biden campaign’s top advisors on climate policy.
Currently New York’s Deputy Secretary for Energy and Environment, Zaidi has pushed the state to be a national leader in renewable energy. In that position, he also developed transportation green zones to increase the monitoring of truck pollution around schools and in front-line communities.
Zaidi held climate policy positions in the Obama White House, including Domestic Policy Council deputy director for energy policy, and associate director for natural resources, energy, and science at the Office of Management and Budget. Zaidi also was policy aide to the Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu. Zaidi’s policy portfolio at the Department of Energy included reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil by promoting responsible federal-lands production and alternative fuels, creating jobs by advancing clean energy and energy efficiency technologies – as well as the intersection of these matters with the President’s Climate Action Plan.
After emigrating from Pakistan at the age of 5, Zaidi, now 32, grew up in Edinboro, Pennsylvania. He holds an A.B. from Harvard University and a J.D. from Georgetown University, where he was editor of the Georgetown Law Journal (GLJ) and executive editor of GLJ’s Annual Review of Criminal Procedure.
After Georgetown, Zaidi taught and engaged in research work at Stanford’s Precourt Institute for Energy, where he addressed the intersection of technology, policy and financial innovation, and the economic and fiscal implications of climate change. In addition, Zaidi co-founded Lawyers for a Sustainable Economy, designed to connect sustainability-focused startups with pro bono legal services.
After Stanford, he spent eight years in the Obama administration, as the Associate Director for Natural Resources, Energy, and Science at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). He led a 60-person team that was responsible for overseeing a wide array of policy, budget and management issues across a nearly $100 billion portfolio and a number of federal agencies, including the departments of Energy, Agriculture, and the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Army Corps of Engineers’ civil works, the National Science Foundation, and the Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation’s largest public utility.
Zaidi also served as OMB’s chief policy official for implementation of the Climate Action Plan, which he helped design and draft, and he was part of the delegation that negotiated the historic international climate change agreement in Paris. At OMB, Zaidi also led on aspects of other Obama-Biden Administration priority policies, including infrastructure, transportation, technology, science and conservation.
Leaving the Obama-Biden Administration, Zaidi worked as a transactional and regulatory attorney and helped launch and lead his law firm’s sustainable investment practice, which focused on clients with interests in climate change, clean energy, advanced transportation and water. He also has served as legal counsel in pro bono cases involving civil rights, global development, and impact investment.
Some New York environmental leaders complained they never knew Zaidi was serving a key role in the state during his short tenure as Deputy Secretary for Energy and Environment, which overlapped the COVID crisis. One critic called him a “ghost” for lack of outreach. However, given the depth of his connections within the Biden administration and his many other related climate-oriented activities, it seems unlikely that this criticism will persist in his new role.
In an April 2020 Stanford Law Review article, “New Mandates for Action: Corporate Governance Meets Climate Change,” Zaidi expressed his long-held view that climate change is having a negative impact on the U.S. economy and will result in trillions of dollars in lost revenue by 2100 if the government fails to take action. He cited research indicating that 72 out of 79 industries will be negatively impacted by insufficiently addressing climate change: “The risk is ‘non-linear, [s]ystemic,’ and a risk for which we, collectively, are generally [u]nder-prepared.” “Climate change is already costing taxpayers,” he wrote in a white paper while serving in the Obama administration. “But the costs we are incurring today will be dwarfed by the costs that lie ahead. Without action, taxpayers will face hundreds of billions of dollars in additional costs every year by late in this century as the effects of climate change accelerate