Obama To Name Climate, Environment Team

President-elect Barack Obama has vowed to adopt an aggressive approach to global warming and the environment. At a news conference Monday in Chicago, Obama will announce his team to deal with the nation's energy and environmental future. The industrial world is looking to the Obama administration to help get other countries to make environmental changes.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is Morning Edition from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Renee Montagne. We've heard some of the more prominent names, but President-elect Barack Obama is expected to formally introduce his climate change team today. The politicians and scientists who will deal with global warming face enormous challenges. Just last week, diplomats from around the world concluded climate talks in Poland. They held two weeks of negotiations, but made little progress on a new treaty to control greenhouse gas emissions. NPR science correspondent Richard Harris joins us to talk about all these issues. Good morning, Richard.

RICHARD HARRIS: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So, Mr. Obama has said working to prevent climate change is one of his top priorities. Is that reflected in his choices for his climate change team?

HARRIS: Yes, it does appear to be. The two folks that he's expected to announce today, or among the folks he's expected to announce today, are Steven Chu, who's a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, who is very, very interested in energy efficiency and so on, which is key to addressing climate change. And also he's expected to create a climate czar job at the White House, and that will be filled by Carol Browner, who used to run the EPA under the Clinton administration - also a very strong political operative. So folks who are concerned about climate change think that this is a good start, among other people too.

MONTAGNE: Give us a sense of what they've got in front of them.

HARRIS: Well, they've got a really tough task. Scientists say that emissions need to be cut by about 50 to 80 percent by the middle of the century. That's just hard to even imagine. Mr. Obama's goal is to return to our 1990 levels by about 2020. And that's also pretty hard because we're already about 16 percent above that today. And emissions have a tendency to grow, not shrink. So it's tough. And really what he needs to do is convince businesses as well as ordinary people that they need to spend money today, essentially, to save energy tomorrow.

MONTAGNE: Well, it goes without saying that we're in an economic crisis. So how do you see this playing out?

HARRIS: That is a very hard question. In the short run, actually, emissions could decline because oil consumption is falling, and that's, of course, one of the sources of emissions. And it is also possible that the Obama administration could use this crisis as, essentially, an opportunity to pump billions of dollars into infrastructure and other things that can increase energy efficiency. For example, they've been talking about weatherizing public housing, and so on.

But globally, developing countries need something like 50 to 80 billion dollars a year to adapt to climate change. And it appears that that funding is really hurting, particularly now as the economic crisis sweeps the globe.

MONTAGNE: What role could the Obama administration play in prompting other nations around the world to act?

HARRIS: Well, the industrial world is looking to Obama for more leadership. Europe has been carrying that mantle for the last eight years. But at the same time, Europe is feeling the pinch of both economics and some of the climate actions that they've taken. Last week, the European governments got together and actually, kind of, watered down their climate plans, to reduce the amount of their goals for the year 2020. And that's - you know, that's tough.

And also, other countries are also somewhat backing away. Japan, Canada, Australia don't seem to be entirely aggressive on this issue. And of course the real tough ones are China and India, which are, with the United States, the biggest emitters. And so far they're pretty non-committal about what they're going to do.

MONTAGNE: Well, just briefly, what sort of timelines and deadlines are we looking at here?

HARRIS: Well, the international negotiations are trying to figure out how to replace the Kyoto Treaty, which - most of which - its provisions expire in 2012. And they're aiming for about a year from now to have a replacement for that. But that's going to be a really tough deadline to get to.

MONTAGNE: Richard, thanks very much.

HARRIS: My pleasure.

MONTAGNE: NPR science correspondent Richard Harris.

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Obama Names Energy, Environmental Team

President-elect Obama formally announced the members of his energy and environment teams Monday, making good on promises to focus on global warming with the appointment of a strong slate of candidates that includes Nobel laureate Steven Chu.

NPR has also confirmed that Obama will name Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan as education secretary.

Obama said his energy appointees will aim to make public buildings more efficient, modernize the electricity grid, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and preserve natural resources.

"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," Obama said before introducing his "green team" at an afternoon news conference in Chicago.

Chu was selected to lead the Energy Department; Lisa Jackson, former commissioner of New Jersey's Environmental Protection Department, was Obama's pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

In addition, former EPA chief Carol Browner got the nod to head a new council to coordinate White House energy, climate and environment policy. Nancy Sutley, Los Angeles deputy mayor for energy and the environment, was tapped to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

At a meeting with former Vice President Al Gore last week, Obama promised that addressing global climate change will get top priority in the new administration.

"We all believe what the scientists have been telling us for years now, that this is a matter of urgency and national security and it has to be dealt with in a serious way," Obama said after his meeting with Gore, who won a Nobel Prize for his work on global warming.

Obama said he will push for changes in the way Americans use energy and produce greenhouse gases as part of an economic stimulus package that aims to create 2.5 million jobs. The action will come as the international community tries to craft a new treaty limiting greenhouse gases that will replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which the U.S. did not ratify because of opposition from the Bush administration.

Obama said he will announce his choice for secretary of the Interior Department later this week. Monday's appointees reflected vast experience in environmental and energy issues.

• Chu, 60, is the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California and professor of physics and molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley. He has been an advocate for research into global warming and the need for carbon-neutral renewable sources of energy. Chu, who shared a Nobel Prize in physics in 1997, has focused the lab's resources on production of biofuels and solar energy research, according to the laboratory.

• Jackson, 46, is a Princeton University-trained chemical engineer who has worked in government for more than 20 years. Earlier this month, she became chief of staff to New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, but she had previously served as the state's chief environmental enforcement officer. In that capacity, Jackson worked with communities and businesses on initiatives to clean up and protect New Jersey's water, air and soil, according to the agency. She also worked for the EPA for 16 years in several capacities, including acting as an administrator in the Superfund program to clean up hazardous waste sites.

• Browner, who turns 53 on Tuesday, is slated to head a new White House council coordinating agencies that play a role in environmental and energy policy. She served as EPA chief under President Bill Clinton for nearly eight years — the longest-serving administrator in the agency's history, the EPA said. Under Browner, the EPA moved to set stricter standards for particulate matter and smog and undertook other actions to reduce air pollution, including entering partnerships with automakers to produce cleaner cars, according to the EPA.

• Sutley, 46, is a Los Angeles deputy mayor and represents Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on the board of directors for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which is responsible for protecting the state's water resources. Sutley has more than a decade of experience in environmental policy issues at the state and federal levels, working for the California Environmental Protection Agency from 1999-2003 and as a senior policy adviser for the EPA during the Clinton administration.

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