In the lead up to the New Year and a historic term as President of the United States, President-Elect Barack Obama recently unveiled the leading members of his energy team. These will be the heads that determine and regulate our energy decisions and policy; an issue that, as Obama himself so heartily asserts, is just as much the backbone of our nation’s economic future as it is environmental. Considering the weight of much of Obama’s campaign rhetoric about progressiveness and change, critics against many of Obama’s nominations have been many. But for the most part, the 44th President’s energy picks have been supported, or at least taken in stride. As is consistent with Obama’s MO so far, there is a lot of political experience floating around the energy team, but there is also a strong focus on science. Obama’s key energy picks include:
Secretary of Energy - Dr. Steven Chu
Dr. Chu is a Nobel Prize-winning physicist with a strong history in renewable energy. He is director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and a professor of physics and molecular and cellular biology at the University of California at Berkeley. For the last four years Dr. Chu has changed the Berkeley National Lab’s primary focus to alternative and renewable energy.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator - Lisa Jackson
Lisa Jackson is the head of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), a leader among states in implementing renewable energy and climate change policies. She also serves as New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine’s chief of staff.
Chair of White House Council on Environmental Quality - Nancy Sutley
Nancy Sutley is currently Deputy Mayor for Energy and Environment for Los Angeles and was appointed by Mayor Villaraigosa to the Board of Directors for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. She has a long history of environmental work with the California government, including regional posts for the Federal EPA.
Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change - Carol Browner
Browner will hold this inaugural post in the Obama administration to oversee energy and climate policy. She will be responsible for aiding cooperation and integration among various governmental agencies as part of Obama’s comprehensive energy plan. Carol Browner is Principal of The Albright Group LLC where she has consulted on various environmental issues. She headed the EPA for eight years and is the agency’s longest-serving administrator. There is no doubt that Browner will have close and influential ties to President Obama over the next four years.
Secretary of the Interior - Ken Salazar
Ken Salazar is a Senator from Colorado. Before that he served as Attorney General in Colorado, working on several environmental issues. He at one time led Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources. As Secretary of the Interior, Salazar would oversee the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management.
As a Team
Again, Obama’s energy team reveals a marriage between science, energy, and economy. The appointment of Dr. Steven Chu has gained much praise, along with former Clinton-EPA administrator Carol Browner who is widely respected and will likely be the first voice in Obama’s ear on climate change and energy policy. There has been some controversy surrounding Lisa Jackson for her industry ties and alleged failure to implement toxic waste cleanup programs in New Jersey.
Most of the controversy, however, remains with Ken Salazar as Secretary of the Interior. Salazar’s appointment was opposed by a mass of environmental groups. Over 150 groups and 60 scientists supported Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva, a rival for the position at one time. Although few of these groups are apparently willing to speak out against Salazar now that the appointment is set. Salazar does have a very mixed record on environmental issues. He has voted to increase national park funding, but also voted against higher fuel economy standards. He voiced concern over climate change and oil and gas companies, but has voted to prevent action against climate change and to increase federal subsidies for the oil and gas industry. Furthermore, Salazar supported the appointment of current Interior head Gale Norton, widely regarded as being almost anti-environmentalist.
How will such a history affect Salazar’s actions as a member of the Obama administration? That remains to be seen. Obama’s energy team now joins the long list of other appointments—most controversial in some way—as the U.S. people and the world wait with bated breath for whatever action comes following January 20th.