The Environmental Appointments: Obama Means What He Says

President-elect Obama's choices for top environment posts reveal something very important: they tell us that Obama means what he says. He means it when he says he wants to protect the planet and tackle global warming.

Plenty of politicians say they want to save the environment. Even President Bush campaigned on a promise to cut global warming pollution. But then his environmental appointments and Cheney's Energy Task Force told us the real story: Bush had no intention of honoring his commitments.

But Obama is putting his words into action. The people he has tapped don't come from the fossil fuel industry or military and defense sector like so many past appointees. They come from the fields they will be leading: energy and the environment. They are people who believe that science and data tell the truth about the environment, not politics and financial gain.

And they have a vision for a cleaner future. The Bush years had us stuck in a dirty haze of 19th century coal technology and 20th century petroleum addiction. Our economy, our competitive advantage, and our environment can't sustain that any longer, and Obama knows its. He knows America can shift to high tech solutions like smart grids and plug-in hybrid cars that will create jobs at home, end our dependence on oil, and bolster our national security.

Obama is launching us in this bold new direction. The proof is in his team.

Carol Browner, "Energy Czar:" When I met with Browner a few weeks ago and handed over the environmental community's proposal for Obama's green transition, I knew I was putting our recommendations in the best of hands. Browner was an inspiring leader and an aggressive regulator who took seriously her responsibility as head of the Clinton EPA to enforce the nation's environmental laws. She then became a leader in the nonprofit community as head of Audubon's board.

Obama's decision to create a new energy and climate position housed in the White House reveals just how serious he is about carrying out his clean energy mandate. Browner will be a great standard bearer.

Dr. Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy: It will be enormously gratifying to have a Nobel-winning scientist leading the nation's energy labs. Not only does Chu recognize the grave threat of global warming, but he has devoted himself to developing clean, renewable energy technologies to combat it. He is especially versed in both the big picture value and the technical details of energy efficiency.

As the head of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory--home to the nation's best and brightest analysts of efficiency and energy policy--Chu has developed a deep understanding of the critical importance of good DOE decisions in protecting the environment and restoring America's economic health. He will enter the job with more thorough efficiency and energy expertise than any other nominee in the DOE's over-30 year history.

Lisa Jackson, EPA Administrator: As a proven leader on energy and climate issues, Jackson is a great choice for the Obama EPA. Many of my NRDC colleagues found her to be a thoughtful and pragmatic leader when they worked closely with her to establish the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, the first mandatory, market-based effort to reduce carbon emission from power plants in 10 Northeastern states.

But Jackson didn't stop there. As commissioner of NJ EPA, she helped New Jersey adopt economy-wide limits on global warming pollution, making it second only to California in its efforts to address climate change. She pushed the governor to support an economic stimulus plan that included about $500 million for energy efficiency investments. She also shaped the state's Energy Master Plan, which requires New Jersey to cut energy use by 20 percent by 2020 and meet 30 percent of demand through renewables by 2020.

Nancy Sutley, Chair, Council on Environmental Quality: Sutley will do an excellent job in this position. She is an expert on climate, energy, and water policy, and has practical experience at all levels of government. She is especially adept at translating policy into action on the ground. 

NRDC has had an office in Los Angeles for 20 years, and on several critical issues, Sutley has been an indispensable ally in our efforts to improve the region's air and water quality. We have worked with her at the federal, state, and local levers on clean fuels, climate, air pollution, and water policy. As LA Mayor Villaraigosa's deputy major and point person on environment and energy issues, for instance, she was recently instrumental in helping us persuade the Port of LA to enact the most progressive clean truck rules of any port in the world.

Bill Richardson, Secretary of Commerce: I am thrilled to see this former NRDC trustee appointed to this position. As head of Commerce, Richardson will oversee the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is responsible for our nation's ocean fisheries, marine sanctuaries, and coastal zone management programs.

Richardson is a skilled negotiator who can position the US as a leader on international ocean issues. But his expertise on energy and climate will be especially critical. He can ensure that when the Obama administration and Congress address energy and climate issues there will be a strong voice for ocean conservation in these discussions.


The challenges ahead are great, but with Obama's commitment and the team he has assembled, we are hopeful that we can shift dramatically towards a clean, green future that will create long term environmental gains and sustain the economy and human well being at the same time. We at NRDC are poised to help realize that future.