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Obama Makes His Green Team Official

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By Eoin O'Carroll, Christian Science Monitor. Posted December 16, 2008.

At a news conference in Chicago Monday, Barack Obama announced many of his energy and environment appointees, a team that many say signals a sharp break from Bush administration policies toward pollution, wildlife, clean energy, and climate change.

“In the 21st century, we know that the future of our economy and national security is inextricably linked to one challenge: energy,” Obama said Monday, according to a press release. “The team that I have assembled here today is uniquely suited to meet the great challenges of this defining moment. 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. I look forward to working with them in the years ahead.”

The picks are as follows:

Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy

Mr. Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who runs the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, has been tapped to head the Department of Energy, an agency charged with designing and producing nuclear weapons, disposing of radioactive waste, overseeing domestic energy production, and conducting energy-related research.

On that last front, Chu has spearheaded many clean energy initiatives at the Berkeley Lab, many of which have focused on using non-food plants to convert sunlight into liquid fuel. One of these initiatives, known as Helios, is expected to begin construction in 2010. Chu’s Nobel Prize came in 1997 for his contributions to “laser cooling,” a method of trapping gaseous atoms with laser light. This technique makes it easier to study atoms.

Chu is highly respected in physics circles, but according to CNN, some Democrats are concerned at his lack of political experience.

If nominated and confirmed, Chu will be the first Chinese-American to hold this office.

Carol Browner, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change

The Obama administration has created a new role in response to what it sees as a challenge in coordinating all of the federal agencies that have a hand in energy policy. These include the Transportation Department, which mandates fuel economy standards; the Interior Department, which grants permits for oil and gas drilling on federal land; the EPA, which regulates air quality; the Department of Commerce, which develops infrastructure to promote economic growth and sustainable development; and the Department of Energy.

This role is probably an outgrowth of a February 2008 proposal by the Center for American Progress, which called for a White House-level advisor to coordinate energy-related federal agencies as well as “outreach with states, localities, and the private sector, and U.S. leadership and partnership in international efforts to reduce global emissions.” The Center for American Progress was founded by former Clinton chief-of-staff John Podesta, who also co-chairs Obama’s transition team.

The position was quickly dubbed by the media as “energy czar,” a term that the Obama team reportedly dislikes.

Ms. Browner, a former adviser to Sen. Al Gore, served as head of the Environmental Protection Agency from 1993 to 2001. Since then, she has worked for the Albright Group, a “global strategy firm” headed by former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that helps corporations do business internationally. Browner is also the chair of the National Audubon Society.

Browner’s husband, former New York Rep. Tom Downey, has lobbied on behalf of some of the world’s largest polluters, including Exxon Mobil and Chevron.

Working under Browner as Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change will be Heather Zichal. Ms. Zichal served as the Policy Director for Energy, Environment, and Agriculture for Obama’s presidential campaign, and in 2004 drafted John Kerry’s energy and environment policies.

Lisa Jackson, EPA Administrator

The Environmental Protection Agency is not a cabinet department, but the 17,000-employee agency’s head is considered to have a cabinet-level position.

Ms. Jackson, a former EPA scientist who from 2006 until this month ran New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection, has her work cut out for her. Many observers say that the agency has become demoralized under the current administrator, Stephen Johnson. In February, 19 union leaders representing about 10,000 EPA employees sent a letter to Johnson claiming that he had repeatedly violated the agency’s standards of scientific integrity. In April, the Union of Concerned Scientists released the result of a survey that found that 889 of 1,586 staff scientists at the EPA reported that they have experienced political interference in their work in the past five years.

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