Decades from now, I'm sure our grandchildren will wonder why it took us so long to make the connection between environmental regulation and energy policy. In their history books, it will be Obama they're reading about, the one who made history by making the connection official. As Obama explained in yesterday's press conference at the Drake Hotel in Chicago, national security, the economy, and the planet are not mutually exclusive -- a position that signals a dramatic new direction for the White House. Vice President Biden made the point by proudly (and somewhat sarcastically) stating, "No longer will the office of the Vice President be an obstacle to progress." The appointment of a scientist, a real scientist, marks the end of an era in which "science" was a 4-letter word, the bane of economic progress.
The 4 lead Green Team appointees all come with lengthy high-profile resumes and a deep knowledge of both environmental and energy issues. But in some cases, environmentalists are less than thrilled with the appointments, which may come with one too many corporate ties. Nevertheless, the very nature of the appointments and the collaborative spirit which is being promoted by the Obama administration make one thing certain. With this team, Washington will never be the same:
Dr. Stephen Chu, a Nobel prize physicist, will be running the Department of Energy (DOE). He headed up the Lawrence Berkeley Labs, one of the world's preeminent think tanks on energy efficiency and energy production technologies, and most recently he has focused on the production of energy using algae, which converts sunlight into liquid fuel. Though he is well respected, and everyone is thankful to have a scientist on board, environmentalists have criticized his close ties to oil companies and other large corporate sponsors. Also CNN reports that his perceived lack of political experience could be a potential problem, given the huge burden now placed on the DOE to weigh the costs and benefits of competing energy sectors.
Photo: Lawrence Berkeley Labs
Though much hype has surrounded the appointment of Dr. Chu, I think the really big news is the creation of a brand new department, the Office of Energy and Climate Change. A bold reversal from the Bush administration, which just two years ago denied that there was even a correlation between energy and climate, the appointed director who will report directly to the President is Carol Browner. Browner was a former aid to Vice President Al Gore and served as head of the EPA. Her tough anti-pollution policies got her in trouble with both Oil companies and Clinton insiders. Strangely, she is married to Tom Downey, a Washington lobbyist who has worked for some of theworld's worst polluters, including Exxon and Chevron. Browner will act as point person to the President, overseeing a wide array of governmental offices -- the DOE, the EPA (see below), the Dept. of Transportation (sets emission standards), the Interior Dept. (oversees drilling and mining), and the Dept. of Commerce (which will lead the "green jobs" initiative).
Photo: Dept. of Energy
A huge sigh of relief must have been heard at the offices of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) when Lisa Jackson an EPA scientist and former administrator was selected to head the agency. In recent years, the "protection" part of the EPA seems to have gone missing as Bush-appointed director Stephen Johnson has led a campaign to weaken the role of scientists in the policies presented by the EPA. He has been charged with repeatedly violating the agency'sstandards of scientific integrity, and after receiving a petition signed by over 10,000 EPA employees was investigated by the Union of Concerned Scientists who found that over 50% of employed scientists at the agency experienced political interference with their work. But many environmentalists are concerned over the Jackson appointment. During her tenure, New Jersey has been under attack for its failure to clean up some of the nation's most toxic sites, an unkept promise made by Jackson when she took office. Even the Johnson-run EPA slammed her administration for being too lax!
Photo: New Jersey Dept. of Environmental Protection
Lastly, Nancy Sutley, will head up the White House Council on Environmental Quality. She currently serves as LA's Deputy Mayor overseeing Energy and the Environment and sat on the board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Los Angeles county faces some of the greatest environmental challenges on all 3 fronts -- energy, water and pollution, and her expertise signals a departure from the previously "ornamental" role of the Council (in both and Clinton and Bush administrations). Many have high hopes, given her ability to build bureaucratic bridges and get work done.
Photo: Metropolitan Water District of Southern California