President-Elect Obama Picks Green Team

President-elect Barack Obama named Dr. Steven Chu as energy secretary and filled other key environmental posts Monday. Environmental activists say Obama's picks show a greater commitment to improving the environment than his predecessor, President Bush.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Now to Mr. Obama's nominees for key energy and environmental posts which signal his interest in promoting renewable energy and tackling climate change. NPR's Elizabeth Shogren has this story.

ELIZABETH SHOGREN: Mr. Obama's choices won't have to do a lot of homework before they get started. Carol Browner, Steven Chu, and Lisa Jackson are experts with many years of experience as government managers.

Ms. KATHLEEN MCGINTY (Former Chair, Council on Environmental Quality): This is the team that can hit the ground running.

SHOGREN: Kathleen McGinty headed President Clinton's White House Council on Environmental Quality, and until recently ran Pennsylvania's environment agency.

Ms. MCGINTY: I think it is a team that will have the combined smarts on the substantive side of these issues, as well as the political acumen and strategy and ability to bring the right players to the table.

SHOGREN: After eight years of complaining about the Bush administration's failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, environmental activists were elated by the announcements.

Ms. EILEEN CLAUSSEN (President, Pew Center on Global Climate Change): Many of us who are interested in the climate issue are really heartened by this set of selections, because I think it really means that we're going to move forward.

SHOGREN: Eileen Claussen heads the Pew Center on Climate Change. She was particularly impressed by Mr. Obama's decision to nominate Steven Chu as energy secretary.

Ms. CLAUSSEN: I think it's absolutely terrific to put someone in at the Department of Energy who is both a scientist and really knowledgeable on energy efficiency and renewables.

SHOGREN: Chu is a green energy advocate who heads the Energy Department's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. In an interview with NPR earlier this year, Chu explained why the country has failed to address climate change.

Dr. STEVEN CHU (United States Secretary of Energy-Nominee): I don't think the American public understands the reasonably high probability some very bad things will happen. They fundamentally don't understand that, because if they really felt that, then they would do something about it.

SHOGREN: Industry representatives say they see the appointees as harbingers of change. They expect more regulation and stricter enforcement of environmental laws. Scott Segal is a lawyer and lobbyist for electricity companies that burn coal.

Mr. SCOTT SEGAL (Lawyer; Lobbyist): We're expecting big shifts from where the current administration is to where the next administration will be.

SHOGREN: One of the president-elect's goals is to get Congress to adopt a program to slash emissions of greenhouse gases. Lisa Jackson, Mr. Obama's nominee to head the EPA, already helped push a program like that through the New Jersey Legislature. Several business representatives who worked with her during that process gave her high marks. David Brogan is a vice president of the New Jersey Business and Industry Association.

Mr. DAVID BROGAN (Vice President of Environmental Policy, New Jersey Business and Industry Association): It's a very difficult issue. It's a very complex issue. It affects businesses across the spectrum. And she was willing to listen to us, to work with us. She's a good administrator. She understands that you need to hear from all sides before making a final decision.

SHOGREN: Jackson has mixed reviews from environmental groups in New Jersey. Some say she hadn't done enough to clean up hazardous waste sites, but others say she has used her considerable political skills and persuasion to promote clean energy and win passage of climate policy. Jackson is a New Orleans native with an academic background in chemical engineering. Her resume includes 16 years working at the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Mr. Obama named one of that agency's former chiefs, Carol Browner, to a brand new job as the climate and energy czarina. The president-elect says Browner will coordinate federal, state, and local programs.

President-elect OBAMA: She brings the unmatched experience of being a successful and longest-serving administrator of the EPA. She will be indispensable in implementing an ambitious and complex energy policy.

SHOGREN: Browner has already started that work in the president-elect's transition team. Elizabeth Shogren, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

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.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: