President-Elect Barack Obama announced four chiefs of his energy and environmental team today. There were no surprises and none of the grimaces that have attended Obama's choices for top foreign policy and national security posts. If one word could describe all four, it would be pragmatic. As these names were leaked in the past week or so, environmental advocates have generally indicated they are pleased with the choices.
USA Today called Carol Browner energy "czarina." Her actual role will be as a senior advisor to the President working on integrating environment, energy, dealing with the differences sure to arise among the Environmental Protection Agency, and the departments of Energy, Transportation and Interior. Browner was President Clinton's EPA administrator for his entire presidency and will, according to a New York Times article a week ago, have "forceful support" in Congress.
The National Resources Defense Council stated:
"Carol Browner is a great choice for the new position of 'energy czar' bringing the clout, experience and personality to this role. Browner brings many years of experience and expertise in addressing energy and the environmental at state and federal levels, and in the private sector. By creating this new position, President-elect Obama has reinforced his position that clean energy and climate protection are keys to spurring economic recovery while safeguarding the planet. Brown is the strong, capable person we need at the helm of our energy and environment issues."
For the Department of Energy, it's Nobel Prize-winner Steven Chu. He was previously chairman of the Stanford University physics department at Stanford, and once headed the electronics research laboratory at Bell Labs. For the past four years, he has directed the 4,000-employee, $650-million Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
One aspect of DoE that Chu is unfamiliar with is the making and maintaining of nuclear weapons, which consumes 40% of the department's budget. Now might be a good time to shift that budget and activity to the Department of Defense, where it belongs.
Here's 9+ minutes of Chu at the National Clean Energy Summit last summer.
For the Environmental Protection Agency, it's Lisa Jackson, who for the past 31 months up to December 1 was commissioner of New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection. According to many sources and has a reputation as a pragmatic consensus builder. Governor Jon Corzine, for whom she has been chief of staff the past two weeks, told the Star Ledger: "I feel very strongly about her leadership, ability to understand the fundamentals of how we protect people environmentally, but also how we build our economy at the same time."
While some observers give her credit for depoliticizing the department, the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility says otherwise:
DEP employees describe Ms. Jackson as employing a highly politicized approach to decision-making that resulted in suppression of scientific information, issuance of gag orders and threats against professional staff members who dared to voice concerns. These reports raise troubling questions about her fitness to run an agency of much greater size and complexity. ...
In one of her first acts, Jackson appointed the lobbyist for the New Jersey Builders Association as her Assistant Commissioner to oversee critical water quality and land use permits. Jackson later convened an industry-dominated task force to rewrite DEP policies and relaxed pollution enforcement through policies more business-friendly than those under Gov. Christie Whitman.
For chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the President-Elect has chosen Nancy Sutley. She is currently the deputy mayor for energy and the environment in Los Angeles, one of several openly gay advisors to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The quiet-spoken Sutley has been deeply involved in pushing the municipally owned Department of Water and Power toward wind and solar energy and in replacing thousands of diesel trucks at the giant seaports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Sutley previously served in the Clinton administration and was an advisor to former California Governor Gray Davis.
"The city's approach has changed fundamentally since she got there," said V. John White, director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies, an advocacy group. "Instead of the port being the advocate for truckers and shippers, it was an advocate for clean air to the point of being sued."
She's not one of those people who gets out in front or wants the big public thing, the big ego reward. She just gets stuff done," said David Pettit, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "She is really hardworking and relentless in doing what she thinks is the right thing." ...
"She immediately emerges as the smartest person in the room who asks the hardest questions and comes up with the best solutions," said Vickie Patton, deputy general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund, who worked with Sutley in the Clinton administration.
As in so many other areas, half of the work of the new green team will probably be directed toward reversing the supremely damaging environmental policies of the past eight years and the other half making up for the lousy energy policies of the past 28 years.