Seasoned Regulators to Lead Obama Environment Program
Friday, December 12, 2008
The Obama administration has ambitions for a radical change in U.S. environmental policy. But President-elect Barack Obama did not pick radicals to lead it.
Instead, the three officials tapped for leadership posts on the environment are not activists but regulators who have spent years in the weeds of such issues as mercury emissions, brownfields and black-bear hunts.
They will inherit the usual issues -- dirty air, dirty water, brownfields and red tides -- plus an unprecedented one. Obama has promised to cut back U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases -- a proposal that could set off an enormous political fight.
A review of their records and past statements reveals little about the exact policies they would pursue under Obama. It shows they have won over some environmental activists with an open attitude and disappointed others who felt they were not pushing hard enough.
Their expected efforts to limit greenhouse gases would be more ambitious than changes they have sought in previous positions.
"It's going to be an enormous challenge," said Felicia Marcus, the western director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "To call it 'herding cats' would be to oversimplify it. It's like herding dogs, cats, wolves and sheep."
Democratic sources say Obama plans to name Carol M. Browner, a former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, to a new position overseeing energy, environment and climate change policy from the White House. He will choose Lisa P. Jackson, who headed the New Jersey environment agency, as head of the EPA.
And, sources said, he will name Nancy Sutley, a deputy mayor in Los Angeles, to chair the White House Council on Environmental Quality. The president-elect is expected to announce the appointments next week.
Along with Steven Chu -- a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who sources say will be named secretary of energy -- the three will form the core of Obama's environmental team.
Word of their appointment was greeted enthusiastically yesterday by some environmental groups. The League of Conservation Voters called the group a "green dream team."
Industry groups were more cautious. At the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Vice President William Kovacs said the group worried that the new officials would use their power to limit greenhouse-gas emissions and impose painful new costs on energy use.
"I think that they could be aggressive, and we're hoping that they're really going to look at the circumstances" of the economic downturn, Kovacs said. "That is our biggest single concern, because literally all three of them have a regulatory bent."