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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Obama’s Environment Team Takes Shape

Air Date: Week of

Incoming EPA administrator Lisa Jackson. (Courtesy of the New Jersey DEQ)

The president-elect’s picks for the top environment and energy posts are starting to take shape. Living on Earth’s Jeff Young tells us who they are and what they’ll bring to the fight against climate change.


CURWOOD: While climate talks were underway here in Poland, in Chicago, President-elect Barack Obama was selecting the team that will lead his efforts on energy and climate change in Washington, DC.

Obama is expected to name Nobel prize-winning physicist Steven Chu to be energy secretary and former New Jersey environmental official Lisa Jackson to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And Obama is creating a new White House energy and climate advisory position, to be led by former EPA administrator Carol Browner. Living on Earth's Jeff Young is with me now on the line from Washington with more on Obama's environment team. Jeff?

YOUNG: Dzien dobry, Steve. That's sort of Polish, I think?

CURWOOD: It’s close enough. So, Jeff a Nobel laureate to lead the department of Energy? Now, that's some intellectual heft.

Steven Chu. (Courtesy of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)

YOUNG: I think so, yeah. Steven Chu will be the first career scientist to lead the energy department. For the past four years he's been in charge of one of the DOE's top labs, the Lawrence Berkeley national laboratory, where he steered it toward renewable energy, advanced biofuels and energy efficiency. He called it his "mission" to make the lab a leader in carbon-neutral energy sources. He's very big on using efficiency standards. He's fond of saying that companies would make more energy-efficient products if they would just assign the job to engineers instead of lobbyists.

CURWOOD: And he really has spoken out on climate change, as well.

YOUNG: Absolutely. He says his growing sense of alarm about global warming is part of what's motivating his work. And at a recent conference he gave a pretty dark warning about what might happen with uncontrolled global warming.

CHU: Climate change of that scale will cause enormous resource wars over water, arable land, and massive population displacements. We're not talking about 10,000 people, we’re not talking about 10 million people, we are talking about hundreds of millions to billions of people being flooded out, permanently.

YOUNG: Probably the only criticism I've heard is that Chu has no political experience, and he'll face some tough politics as Obama pushes ahead with his climate and energy policy. You know, oil, coal, nuclear, you name the lobbyists, they’re all going to be lining up, angling for every possible advantage. The question is will Chu be as tough as he is clearly smart.

CURWOOD: Well, Carol Browner certainly brings political experience, a lot of it. She was in charge of EPA eight years, I believe that’s longer than anyone in the agency's history. Tell me about her new job.

YOUNG: Ah, yes, the energy czar, as it's been dubbed here in D.C. The idea here is that because climate change is a cross-cutting issue that requires attention from so many parts of government, you really need someone at a high level to coordinate those efforts. And Browner's been a very vocal advocate on global warming since she left EPA. And of course because of her experience at the agency she understands what government can and can't do in the way of regulating greenhouse gases. She spoke about that at an event earlier this month.

BROWNER: The Environmental Protection Agency, under the existing Clean Air Act, is sitting on some authority. The Supreme Court decision of two years ago gives them authority. I think most of us who have worked on these issues for a long time would agree, it's not the most refined authority, you can't get to cap and trade through this authority, but nevertheless, the president-elect will have some tools available should he decide to use those in the event that perhaps there can't be some sort of agreement with Congress on how to move legislation.

Carol Browner.

YOUNG: And Steve, the person taking over at EPA, Lisa Jackson, she played a part in moving New Jersey toward setting very aggressive global warming goals.

CURWOOD: New Jersey certainly has its share of environmental challenges as well. What's Lisa Jackson's reputation there?

YOUNG: I've heard mixed reviews from New Jersey environmentalists. There's some praise for her focus on clean energy, climate change, things like that. However, I heard from some who worked for her agency who thought it was not at its best during her tenure. So mixed reviews there. She's a chemical engineer, educated at Princeton, she would also be the first African-American to lead EPA.

CURWOOD: Well, it sounds like the president elect is putting together a team to really take on climate change, Jeff.

YOUNG: Oh, I definitely think so. You look at Mr. Chu on the science, hard to argue with the credentials of a Nobel laureate there. Ms. Browner on policy, lots of experience, and now Ms. Jackson at EPA able to perhaps bring in the state perspective to things. You combine that with the signals we've been getting from Obama since the election about his desire to really dig in on this, and I think we see the makings of an administration that's gearing up to act on climate change in a big way, and to attack it from a lot of different angles.

Lisa Jackson. (Courtesy of the New Jersey DEQ)

CURWOOD: Jeff Young in Washington, thanks.

YOUNG: Dziękuje.

CURWOOD: Thanks.

[MUSIC: Chris McGregor “Andromeda” from Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood Of Breath (Maxine McGregor Records 1971)]

CURWOOD: Just ahead, the ABCs of the CDM and the COP – oh, don’t forget, the MOP. That’s just ahead right here on Living on Earth!

ANNOUNCER: Support for the Environmental Health Desk at Living on Earth comes from the Cedar Tree Foundation. Support also comes from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman fund for coverage of population and the environment. And from Gilman Ordway for coverage of conservation and environmental change. This is Living on Earth on PRI, Public Radio International.



Hear Steven Chu talk about energy and climate change

Read Lisa Jackson’s speech when she started work as New Jersey’s environment commissioner

Hear Carol Browner’s views on the importance of investing in clean energy


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