Obama's Enviro Team Begins to Take Shape
This story is written by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ali Frick, and Ryan Powers.
According to the annual Climate Change Performance Index published yesterday, the United States has third-worst record on tackling greenhouse gas emissions, just beating Saudi Arabia. Annual greenhouse emissions are now 17 percent higher than they were in 1990. The Bush environmental record will be remembered as one that placed politics over science, neutered international efforts, and allowed big industry to shape policy. President-elect Obama has shown that he intends to fill the void created by Bush and will allow science to dictate policy. Today, reports indicate that Obama will select Dr. Steven Chu as Secretary of Energy, Carol Browner as head of the new National Energy Council, and Lisa Jackson as Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator. Nancy Sutley, Los Angeles's deputy mayor for energy and environment, will chair Obama's Council on Environmental Quality. Although Chu "is likely to focus his attention on the Energy Department's core missions: basic science, nuclear weapons and cleaning up a nuclear-weapons manufacturing complex contaminated since the Cold War," his selection is a strong signal of Obama's progressive intentions for science-based climate policy. If confirmed, the new team will be working closely with leaders in Congress such as Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), the new chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, to forge a new path in solving the climate crisis. Commenting on Obama's personnel selections, CAP's Director of Climate Strategy Daniel J. Weiss said, "After the anti-science Bush administration, this is like going to a Mensa meeting after eight years of being trapped in the Flat Earth Society.
SCIENCE IS BACK: The choice of Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, is a clear signal from Obama that he intends to restore the role of science in climate policy (Bush's first Department of Energy (DOE) head, Spencer Abraham, had previously advocated abolishing the department). Chu is the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a DOE-funded research institute, where he is on a "mission" to make the lab "the world leader in alternative and renewable energy research, particularly the development of carbon-neutral sources of energy." He was an early advocate of finding scientific solutions to climate change. As Chu explained at this summer's National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas, the best way to reduce greenhouse emissions is to reduce energy consumption by investing in energy efficiency -- policies that are congruent with Obama's stated goals. Furthermore, given the Bush administration's history of obstruction at international climate summits, the global community will likely welcome Chu's selection. As one of 30 members of the Copenhagen Climate Council, Chu is currently part of an effort to push the international community to have the "urgency to establish a global treaty by 2012 which is fit for the purpose of limiting global warming to 2ºC.
THE FIRST 'ENERGY CZAR': The Center for American Progress Action Fund's Change For America blueprint for a progressive administration recommends a National Energy Council to shape "both policy and strategic options with respect to energy and climate change." Aides said while the exact role is still under development, Browner would coordinate administration policy across departments and advocate for policies on Capitol Hill. "In her new role, Browner will need her legislative and administrative experience in a job that will cover everything from climate change to energy policy," the Washington Post notes today. Browner, a former aide to Al Gore, was the longest-serving administrator of the EPA, where she successfully beat back conservative efforts to gut safeguards from pollution. She is currently on the Board of Directors of CAP, Gore's Alliance for Climate Protection, and the National Brownfield Association. Speaking at CAP on Dec. 1, Browner proposed cap-and-trade solutions to global warming that would drive economic growth, observing, "What the government is doing is creating a market opportunity.
RESTORING THE EPA: As the government's chief regulator of air quality, the EPA plays a pivotal role in formulating global warming policy. Thus, perhaps the most important climate policy position will be the new EPA Administrator, who will spearhead efforts to revive an agency torn apart by the abysmal leadership of Administrator Stephen Johnson. Jackson, a chemical engineer, recently led the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). At DEP, Jackson has had a mixed record, earning praise for her work ethic but also criticism for her difficulties achieving the department's mission. Jackson has "worked to pass mandatory reductions in greenhouse gases, to reform the state's cleanup of contaminated sites and to establish a scientific advisory board to review agency decisions," the AP noted today. But the agency has suffered from budget cuts and the loss of thousands of staff positions. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) argued that the DEP has engaged in "suppression of scientific information, issuance of gag orders," and "closed-door deal-making with regulated industry executives and lobbyists." Vouching for Jackson's environmental credentials, Gov. Jon Corzine (D-NJ) told The Progress Report that she "is absolutely committed to the kind of clean-up that some her critics would say she should have done more of." He added, "I think Lisa has done a remarkable job of trying to move the environmental agenda forward within a constrained world.