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Obama's Choices for Energy-Environment Signal New Direction

CHICAGO, Illinois, December 15, 2008 (ENS) – “The team that I have assembled here today is uniquely suited to meet the great challenges of this defining moment,” President-elect Barack Obama said at a Chicago press conference today announcing his nominees for the top officials who will lead his administration on the intertwined sectors of energy and the environment. “They are leading experts and accomplished managers, and they are ready to reform government and help transform our economy so that our people are more prosperous, our nation is more secure, and our planet is protected.”

“All of us know the problems rooted in our addiction to foreign oil – it constrains our economy, shifts wealth to hostile regimes, and leaves us dependent on unstable regions,” Obama said.

“These urgent dangers are eclipsed only by the long-term threat of climate change, which – unless we act – will lead to drought and famine abroad, devastating weather patterns and terrible storms on our shores, and the disappearance of our coastline at home,” he said.

Obama has nominated Dr. Steven Chu for secretary of energy. A physicist who serves as director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, Dr. Chu shared the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics for “development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light.”


Dr. Steven Chu accepts his nomination as
President-elect Barack Obama’s energy
secretary. (Photo courtesy Obama
Transition Project)

Chu is considered an outspoken advocate for scientific solutions to the twin problems of global warming and the need for carbon neutral renewable sources of energy. He has called these problems “the greatest challenge facing science.”

In speeches to organizations around the globe, Chu has said, “Stronger storms, shrinking glaciers and winter snowpack, prolonged droughts and rising sea levels are raising the specter of global food and water shortages. The ominous signs of climate change we see today are a warning of dire economic and social consequences for us all, but especially for the poor of the world.”

“The path to finding solutions is to bring together the finest, most passionate minds to work on the problem in a coordinated effort, and to give these researchers the resources commensurate with the challenge,” Chu says.

In announcing Chu as his choice for energy secretary, Obama said, “His appointment should send a signal to all that my administration will value science, we will make decisions based on the facts, and we understand that the facts demand bold action.

Lisa Jackson has been tapped for the post of administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Currently serving as chief of staff to New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, Jackson is a former commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

Under Jackson at the DEP, New Jersey made a commitment to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels by 2020 and reduce emissions to 80 percent below 2006 levels by 2050.

Jackson joined the Department of Environmental Protection in 2002 as assistant commissioner of compliance and enforcement after 16 years with the U.S. EPA, initially at its headquarters in Washington, DC, and then at its regional office in New York City.


From left: Vice president-elect Joe Biden, EPA
Administrator nominee Lisa Jackson, President-elect
Barack Obama (Photo courtesy Obama Transition
Project)

During her tenure at the EPA, Jackson worked in the federal Superfund site remediation program, developing hazardous waste cleanup regulations, overseeing hazardous waste cleanup projects throughout central New Jersey and directing multimillion-dollar cleanup operations. She later served as deputy director and acting director of the region’s enforcement division.

If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Jackson will be the first African-American to serve as U.S. EPA administrator.

President-elect Obama has selected Nancy Sutley to chair the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Currently deputy mayor for energy and environment in Los Angeles, Sutley served as energy advisor to former California Governor Gray Davis, managing state and federal regulatory, legislative, financial and press matters. From 1999-2003, she was deputy secretary for policy and intergovernmental relations with the California Environmental Protection Agency. She is a member of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District board of directors.

Sutley also has been serving as a senior adviser to the Obama transition team on environmental and energy matters, and she served as a member of the Southern California lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender steering committee for Hillary Clinton during her bid for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

To fill the newly created position of assistant to the president for energy and climate change, Obama has chosen Carol Browner, a former EPA administrator under President Bill Clinton. She was the longest-serving administrator in the history of the agency, staying through both terms of the Clinton presidency.


Carol Browner accepts her nomination as assistant to
the president for energy and climate change.
(Photo courtesy Obama Transition Project)

After the Clinton administration, Browner joined the Albright Group, a global strategy group headed by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. As a principal in that firm, Browner assists businesses and other organizations with the challenges of operating internationally, including complying with environmental regulations.

Browner is currently the chair of the National Audubon Society; her term expires in at the end of the year.

Immediately after the election, Browner was named to the advisory board of the Obama-Biden Transition Project.

Obama has selected Heather Zichal to fill another new position, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change. Zichal currently serves as policy director for energy, environment and agriculture for the Obama team.

She previously served as legislative director to Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, where she coordinated all domestic and foreign policy. In 2004, she was responsible for the Kerry campaign’s energy and environment policies.

Obama said that later this week he will announce his designee for secretary of the interior, which will fill out his energy and environmental team.

Most inital reactions to Obama’s energy and environment choices are positive.

Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, called it an “all-star team to lead our nation’s work on the environment.”

Reid Detchon, executive director of the Climate and Energy program at the UN Foundation, as well as executive director of the Energy Future Coalition, said, “The President-elect’s decision to establish a new White House Council to integrate policy on the intersection of energy, environment and climate change is both visionary and overdue. All the agencies of government must be involved, and his selection of Carol Browner to lead the Council signals the importance he attaches to an effective inter-agency process.”

John Flicker, president of the National Audubon Society, said, “Carol Browner is an outstanding choice to direct the integration of energy and environmental policy and to reposition the U.S. as a leader in addressing global warming.”

Former U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham (2001-2005) said, “I know Dr. Steven Chu and have had the chance to work with and observe him in his role as head of the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory. He is an outstanding leader and scientist and therefore an excellent nominee who deserves broad support from the Senate during his upcoming confirmation.”

Alliance to Save Energy President Kateri Callahan said Chu’s combined management experience and scientific knowledge “will ensure prominence for both the Department of Energy’s energy efficiency and renewable energy mission and its research mission.”

But Jackson’s nomination drew some harsh criticism from the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals.

PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch said Jackson’s track record at the New Jersey DEP “should disqualify her from serving as the next head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.”

“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.” PEER said.

Among concerns PEER cites are cases in which “public health was endangered due to DEP malfeasance,” including one case involving a day-care center in a former thermometer factory in which DEP failed to warn parents or workers for months about mercury contamination.

PEER cites “rising levels of water pollution, contamination of drinking water supplies and poisoning of wildlife with no cogent state response.”

And Ruch says, “The state hazardous waste clean-up program under Ms. Jackson was so mismanaged that the Bush EPA had to step in and assume control of several Superfund sites.”

“In our experience,” Ruch said, “Lisa Jackson is cut out of the same professional cloth as the current administrator, Stephen Johnson – a pliant technocrat who will follow orders.”

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