Obama names energy and environment team

President-elect signals plans for aggressive change on climate change and "green collar jobs," but faces a host of political and economic challenges.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica
3 min read

President-elect Barack Obama on Monday formally announced the top members of his energy and environment team and pledged to move aggressively on energy security and climate change.

As expected, Obama nominated Nobel Prize-winning scientist Steven Chu, now the head of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, as secretary of energy at a press conference in Chicago.

Lisa P. Jackson, the head of New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection, is Obama's choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Nancy Sutley, the deputy mayor for energy and environment for Los Angeles, was picked as chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Nobel-prize winning physicist Steven Chu is said to have been nominated as the next energy secretary. Stanford University

And Obama named former EPA administrator Carol M. Browner to a new position--assistant to the president for energy and climate change--to coordinate energy and climate policies among different federal and state agencies.

The secretary of the interior, who will be the final member of the administration's energy and environment team, will be named later this week, Obama said.

Obama said the nominations reflect his goal to invest in energy technologies to both revitalize the economy and address climate change.

"One of the key points that I want to make at this press conference and I will repeat again and again during the course of my presidency is there is not a contradiction between economic growth and sound environmental practices," Obama said.

"I think that the future of innovation and technology is going to be what drives our economy into the future. And the energy economy is going to be part of what creates the millions of jobs we need," he said.

Obama added that his choice of Chu reflects his desire to have science as the basis of environmental and energy policy decisions. "We will make decisions based on facts, and we understand that the facts demand bold action," he said.

Chu said he intends to support research on sustainable energy technologies at the Department of Energy.

"We believe aggressive support of energy science, coupled with (commercial) incentives...can transform the entire landscape of energy supply," he said.

Challenges and reactions
In the week running up to Monday's announcement, Obama's reported choices were generally well received by clean technology business people and advocates.

However, Obama's energy and environmental team faces growing challenges in implementing broad changes.

The global economic crisis and falling oil prices have slowed green-tech activity, particularly for companies that require lots of capital to commercialize new technologies.

The European Union reached an agreement on carbon-emissions trading on Friday after intense lobbying from utilities and heavy-manufacturing industries. The greenhouse gas reduction targets remain in place, but heavy polluters have more leeway in how they meet those targets, according to reports.

As this Associated Press article points out, scientists say that the task of curbing greenhouse gas levels is more challenging today than it would have been several years ago.

On the political side, some observers doubt that investments in energy efficiency and clean technologies can create the millions of jobs Obama intends to create.

Finally, some have noted that Chu, although a renowned scientist, could run into difficulties navigating the politics of Washington.

Energy guru and efficiency advocate Amory Lovins, the founder and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute, urged Chu to separate nuclear weapons responsibilities from the DOE and to create an assistant secretary devoted to energy efficiency.

"Be bold," Lovins said in a statement. "This is our last and best chance to get energy right. We know how; we just need to go do it."