Obama Selects Key Environmental Positions
On Wednesday, December 17, 2008, President-elect Barack Obama completed his nomination of the six key members of his environmental and energy team.
Please find background information for each of the President-elect’s nominees below.
Department of Energy Secretary
President-elect Obama has tapped Dr. Steven Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, to head the Department of Energy. This choice appears to affirm Obama’s commitment and dedication to increasing alternative energy sources and tackling the complex issues of global climate change.
Chu, a 60-year-old Nobel Prize winning physicist, has an extensive scientific background and is a fierce proponent of renewable energy resource technology. Chu has headed the Berkeley lab since 2004 and dedicated much of the lab’s $600 million budget to development of renewable energy technologies with an emphasis on next-generation biodiesel and energy efficiency for buildings.
The son of Chinese immigrants, Chu is an expert on climate change and understands its potential catastrophic effects. Speaking recently at an energy summit in Las Vegas, Chu said, “Climate change of that scale will cause enormous
resource wars, over water, arable land, and massive population displacements. We’re not talking about ten thousand people. We’re not talking about 10 million people, we’re talking about hundreds of millions to billions of people being flooded out, permanently.” Chu’s dedication to stopping climate change dove-tails with Obama’s environmental agenda to establish a cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the further development and deployment of alternative energy sources. Chu also supports nuclear energy as an element in the nation’s diverse energy portfolio.
Chu’s selection has garnered high praise from both environmental and utility industry groups. John Balbech, Managing Partner of Cleantech Group, commended the pick and stated, “If there’s anyone who fundamentally understands where we should be going to create a new energy economy, Steven is one of them.” And Scott Segal, Director of the utility industry group Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, stated that Chu’s “understanding of the art of the possible in energy technology will be critical to the development of a cost-effective climate change policy.”
President-elect Obama has selected former New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) Chief Lisa Jackson to head EPA. A Princeton-educated chemical engineer, Jackson worked for EPA in Washington and New York for 16 years before being hired by the NJDEP. In 2006, she was tapped by New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine to run the department which oversees state environmental regulation. During her relatively short tenure, Jackson worked to pass mandatory reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and to clean up the multitude of contaminated sites in the state.
There has been much praise for this selection, especially from environmental organizations, because of the experience Jackson gained while at NJDEP. “In New Jersey, you’re working on contaminated sites, you’re working on open space, endangered species, and clean water. New Jersey is the laboratory for environmental protection. Whatever bad happens in the environment, it happens in New Jersey first. It is a good proving ground,” said Jeff Tittel, Executive Director of the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club. “She is the best possible choice that President Obama could make,” said Dena Mottola Jaborska, Executive Director of Environment New Jersey. “She has had a lot of situations where protections needed for the environment were politically difficult, and sometimes she didn’t prevail and sometimes she did prevail.”
However, the selection of Jackson has engendered some controversy. The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a group that represents environmentally-minded state and federal employees, raised opposition by questioning her fitness to run an agency of great size, complexity and significance. In response to these allegations, NJDEP officials stated that Jackson inherited many of the problems exposed by PEER and that, in regards to climate change, the state is getting back on course.
Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality
Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Nancy Sutley has been named the Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Sutley has been Deputy Mayor for Energy and Environment in Los Angeles since 2005 and was a senior advisor to the EPA Region 9 Administrator in the Clinton Administration. Sutley and Carol Browner worked together during the Clinton Administration to develop EPA’s Acid Rain Program. Sutley has served on the California State Water Resources Control Board.
The Council on Environmental Quality advises the President and Vice President on national and international environmental law and oversees the efficiency of the federal agencies and makes sure they comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
This pick has received much praise. Diane Wittenberg, Executive Director of the Los Angeles-based Climate Registry, said, “Nancy’s appointment seems to fit the theme of most of the Obama picks – policy oriented, savvy, knows how to actually make things happen in Washington. I’m sure she’ll be a shining star.”
Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change
Obama has selected former EPA head Carol Browner to direct a new office in the White House to coordinate federal energy and climate change policy. Browner headed EPA during the Clinton Administration and was known for strictly enforcing environmental laws as well as creating progressive policy. As the White House “Energy and Climate Change Czar,” Browner will be guiding the Obama Administration’s energy and climate change policy and she will have significant oversight of all the federal environmental agencies, including EPA.
Her selection has won praise based on her record and experience. “Clearly Carol Browner did a remarkable job as administrator. She has tremendous values and was a strong supporter preserving integrity of national ambient air quality standards. She will do a magnificent job as climate czar,” said S. William Becker, Executive Director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies. Prior to her post as administrator of EPA, Browner headed the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation.
Most recently, Browner has been working at the Albright Group, a consulting firm advising businesses on international issues, headed by former Secretary of State
Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change
Current co-chair of the Energy and Environment Policy Team for the Obama Transition Team, Heather Zichal, has been chosen as the Deputy to the “Energy and Climate Change Czar.”
Zichal served as President-elect Obama’s Policy Director for Energy, Environment and Agriculture on the campaign trail. Prior to joining the Obama campaign, Zichal served as Senator John Kerry’s Legislative Director and directed Kerry’s energy and environmental policy in the 2004 presidential campaign. Earlier in her career, Zichal served as Legislative Director for Representatives Frank Pallone (NJ-6) and Rush Holt (NJ-12).
Interior Department Secretary
Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO) has been selected as Obama’s Secretary for the Department of the Interior. Salazar hails from a family of farmers and ranchers and worked as a farmer himself for more than 30 years. Colorado Governor Roy Romer appointed Salazar as the Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources in 1990. In this role, Salazar wrote the Colorado constitutional amendment which created Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), a land conservation organization devoted to protection of parks and open spaces, and also served as the first chairman of GOCO. From 1994 to 1998, Salazar engaged in the private practice of water and environmental law. Salazar was elected and served as the Colorado Attorney General from 1998through 2004.
Salazar has served as a Senator for the state of Colorado since 2004. He won the seat opened by the retirement of former Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, currently a Senior Policy Advisor for Holland & Knight. In the Senate, Salazar serves on both the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry; and the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Carbon capture and sequestration have been of particular interest to Salazar. Salazar was key to the inclusion of a provision in Renewable Fuels, Consumer Protection, and Energy Efficiency Act of 2007 that requires the Department of the Interior to assess geological storage capacity for carbon dioxide. Salazar has questioned the Bush Administration’s plans for development of oil shale and tar sand, but has been supportive of lifting the moratorium on off-shore development.
Holland & Knight has strong working relationships with the Obama environmental and energy team. Our governmental relations team includes former members of Congress, highly ranked EPA and CEQ staff under the Clinton Administration, and former congressional staff members, as well as experienced environmental and energy attorneys.