ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
From NPR News, it's All Things Considered. I'm Andrea Seabrook. President-elect Obama filled two top science slots today, and they signaled his emphasis on tackling climate change. Harvard physicist John Holdren will be the chief White House science adviser and marine biologist Jane Lubchenco is his choice to run NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Mr. Obama said his White House is determined to turn back toward science.
President-elect BARACK OBAMA: Because the truth is that promoting science isn't just about providing resources. It's about protecting free and open inquiry. It's about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology. It's about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it's inconvenient.
SEABROOK: NPR environment correspondent Elizabeth Shogren is with us now. And Elizabeth, how big a change in White House stance is this?
ELIZABETH SHOGREN: This is a very big change. For eight years, the Bush administration has said we do not want any mandatory cuts of greenhouse gas emissions. And now you have several people who've been named to top jobs, who have been calling for these kinds of changes, and they're some of the biggest advocates of cutting greenhouse gas emissions and doing it quickly. For example, here's a clip from an interview Holdren had with the show "Democracy Now" this summer.
(Soundbite of TV show "Democracy Now")
Dr. JOHN HOLDREN (Professor of Environmental Policy, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University): I think that most people - even most scientists - continue to underestimate how far down the path to climate catastrophe we've already traveled.
SEABROOK: Pretty strong language, Elizabeth.
SHOGREN: Yes, and he's not the only one who's been saying things like this. Earlier this week, the president-elect picked Nobel Prize-winning scientist Steven Chu to be his energy secretary. And Chu said something similar to this when he was talking to some NPR reporters earlier this year.
Dr. STEVEN CHU (Secretary of Energy-Nominee; Professor of Physics and Molecular and Cellular Biology, University of California, Berkeley): I keep on returning to this. I don't think the American public understands a 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.
SEABROOK: More strong language.
SHOGREN: And these are the kind of things that President Obama will hear from his advisers if all the various other priorities that are on his plate push climate change to the backburner.
SEABROOK: So, Elizabeth, with such a deep bench, then, on climate change science, does this mean that the Obama administration is going to move fast to cut greenhouse gas emissions?
SHOGREN: It's hard to know what's going to happen because the president-elect wants to move forward by pushing a bill through Congress, but this is a very complicated process, and there are a lot of other things on Congress' plate right now and a recession going on. So it will make it very difficult to address this very quickly.
SEABROOK: Is there anything the administration could do before Congress acts?
SHOGREN: Yes, there's a lot that the administration can do. It can give California and 16 other states the go-ahead to put tailpipe emission standards for cars into effect, and that will reduce emissions from vehicles. It can also go ahead and tell EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
SEABROOK: The Environmental Protection Agency.
SHOGREN: The Environmental Protection Agency. The Supreme Court said that EPA has the power to do this. As soon as EPA seriously moves towards doing this, I think that Congress will become very serious about passing its own bill, because Congress would not like an agency to have the power to do something this dramatic.
SEABROOK: NPR environment correspondent Elizabeth Shogren. Thanks very much for coming in.