Peter Dykstra

We’re a couple of weeks into the Obama administration, and everyone’s had a chance to move into their new offices, assemble the staff, and pay their back taxes. We hear that the president has assembled the "Dream Team" to tackle climate change, and it’s certainly a new day in Washington for those seeking change in our dealings with the environment.

But not all dreams are good dreams, and not everyone on the Obama team has a whole lot of treehugging in their past. Ray LaHood, a veteran Republican Illinois Congressman, is the new Transportation Secretary. The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) gave LaHood a lifetime rating of 27 percent and he has a penchant for supporting major highway construction projects. His agency will take the lead in the auto industry bailout, and will have a major hand in guiding stimulus money toward building projects, green or otherwise.

Judd Gregg, the New Hampshire Republican who is Obama’s second crack at naming a Commerce Secretary, will oversee a department whose $8 billion budget includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA takes up more than half of the entire commerce budget, and is a major player in climate change politics. Gregg earned a 9% rating from LCV in this last session. The new boss of our oceans policy voted in favor of ending a moratorium on offshore oil drilling, and consistently voted to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge during his three Senate terms.

Gregg pulled a 17% score on energy votes from the Campaign for America’s Future; LaHood scored 33%. Neither man has an across-the-board awful environmental track record. LaHood was a big booster of the Bush-Cheney energy plan, but in the last congress, he bucked his party leadership and cast votes in favor of expanding Amtrak, improving mass transit, and alternative energy tax credits. Gregg voted in favor of mandating Federal agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers to consider climate change impact in any new projects.

Ken Salazar is the new Interior Secretary, a former one-term Democratic senator from a Colorado ranching family. His LCV score -- lifetime 81%, and a perfect 100% last year -- is considerably higher than Gregg’s or LaHood’s, but unlike his other cabinet colleagues, he may still not be entirely down with the Green Thing. Salazar voted against vehicle fuel efficiency standards, voted to retain tax breaks for major oil companies, and voted to end the moratorium on offshore drilling. While his Republican counterpart Judd Gregg voted to make climate change impact a factor in big projects, Salazar voted against it.

On Wednesday, Salazar may have offered an early clue of how his Interior Department may work: He reversed, at least temporarily, the impacts of a last-minute Bush Administration sale of oil and gas leases in Southern Utah, pleasing Greens and making the energy industry see red.

National Security Advisor James L. Jones was a member of Chevron’s board of directors until last month -- a fact that may have ended speculation that he’d be Secretary of Energy. Jones, a retired Marine Corps General, was also CEO of the Institute for 21st Century Energy, an outfit that’s backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The chamber has a longstanding and well-deserved reputation as one of the most environmentally regressive groups in Washington. The National Security Adviser hasn’t traditionally had a big profile in environment and energy issues, but oil imports and climate change may rearrange the job description a bit.

A couple of final notes from the opposition party: Michael Steele, the new Republican National Committee Chairman, was responsible for one of the high points of the Party’s 2008 Convention. He was the first to use the phrase: “Drill, Baby Drill.”

And somewhere, in a cold place far away from Washington, the governor of Alaska is locking, loading, winking, and pondering a 2012 Presidential run. In the meantime, Sarah Palin will be suing the feds to block protected status for polar bears and beluga whales.


Peter Dykstra, the former executive producer of CNN's Science, Tech and Weather Unit, is currently a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. He writes three columns for MNN: Media Mayhem on Mondays, Political Habitat on Wednesdays, and Green States on Fridays. (Yes, he writes a lot.)

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