President-Elect Barack Obama (D) has selected a veteran team of regulators and administrators to fill the nation’s top energy and environmental posts, a team that sources say will be focused on climate change and developing renewable energy sources.
He formally announced his picks for energy secretary, Environmental Protection Agency administrator, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and a new advisory position to coordinate policies on climate change and energy across all federal agencies Dec. 15. Environmental groups say they like what they see in the nominees.
Obama has asked former EPA Administrator Carol Browner to serve as White House Energy Coordinator; Lisa Jackson, a chemical engineer and a long-time veteran of the EPA and the New Jersey Dept. of Environmental Protection, to serve as EPA administrator; and Nancy Sutley, who served as both a top energy advisor to former California Gov. Gray Davis (D) and on the California State Water Resources Control Board, to serve as the chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Obama has selected Steven Chu, who won the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics and currently heads up Berkely National Laboratory, to be energy secretary.
“Overall, this is a very impressive group of individuals in terms of their credential and their experience,” says Tim Williams, managing director of the Water Environment Federation, a water quality educational and advocacy group. “Carol Browner, Lisa Jackson and Nancy Sutley are all people who are already familiar with the agencies and the issues they will be working on.”
Reid Detchon, executive director of the Energy Future Coalition, an alliance of business, labor and environmental groups focused on energy policy, calls the creation of a new White House position to integrate policy on energy, climate change and the environment long 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.”
Susan Bruninga, director of public affairs for the National Association of Clean Water Agencies says, The candidates “bring tremendous experience and show that Obama’s really got an eye on the climate change issue…climate change is certainly a priority for [NACWA].”
Williams says that funding issues will likely be key challenges for the nation’s top environmental and energy leaders. Although the new roster of cabinet-level officials is likely to be more sympathetic to supporting additional funds and resources for water infrastructure and the Clean Water state revolving fund, he says, “there is the government-wide issue in terms of how much will really be available in terms of resources” because of current economic conditions and “the amount of money that is being spent on stimulus and other economic-related issues.”
Some New Jersey environmental groups have charged that Jackson was ineffective at overseeing the state’s toxic cleanup program. But Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, praises Jackson, saying she will make an “outstanding” administrator. He says the problems with the state’s remediation program date back to the governorship of Christine Todd Whitman (R), who cut staff and funds for environmental cleanup during her tenure.