Barack Obama officially rolled out his green team at a press conference on Monday afternoon.
“In the 21st century, we know that the future of our economy and national security is inextricably linked to one challenge: energy,” said Obama. “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.”
The picks were leaked last week, but today Obama made them official, nominating Lisa Jackson to be administrator of the U.S. EPA, Steven Chu as energy secretary, Nancy Sutley as chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and Carol Browner as the assistant to the president for energy and climate change, a new position.
The president-elect also announced in a press release today that Heather Zichal, who has served as an adviser to both Obama’s campaign and the transition, will become deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change. For more on Zichal, check out our interview with her from October.
Obama said his nomination for secretary of the interior will be announced later this week. [UPDATE: Obama will nominate Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar (D) to head the Interior Department, transition officials said on Monday night.] The heads of the Department of Agriculture and Department of Transportation, also of interest to enviros, are still pending as well.
Obama emphasized in his remarks today that “there is not a contradiction between economic growth and sound environmental policies,” and also noted that smart environmental policy goes hand-in-hand with national security.
“All of us know the problems rooted in our addiction to foreign oil. It constrains our economy, shifts wealth to hostile regimes, and leaves us dependent on unstable regions,” said Obama. “These urgent dangers are eclipsed only by the long-term threat of climate change, which, unless we act, will lead to drought and famine abroad, devastating weather patterns and terrible storms on our shores, and the disappearance of our coastline at home.”
Obama noted that presidents and members of Congress have promised for decades to end dependence on foreign oil, and launched a number of initiatives aimed at this goal, but their efforts haven’t worked. “This time must be different,” said Obama. “This time we cannot fail, nor be lulled into complacency simply because the price at the pump has — for now — gone down from $4 a gallon.”
Obama’s four nominees each spoke briefly at the event.
“In the years ahead, the Department of Energy will be a major force in meeting the challenges that President-elect Obama described,” Chu said. Chu pledged to “put us on a path forward toward sustainable energy,” and said that addressing energy and environmental issues is “essential for our future prosperity.”
Said Jackson, “As an environmentalist, as a public servant, as a native New Orleanian, and as a mother, there is simply no higher calling for me than to this agency at this time.” She said the top issue the EPA will address under her watch is “the threat of climate change, which requires us to transform how we produce and use energy throughout the economy.” She emphasized that addressing climate change will include attention to “justice for communities who bear disproportionate risks and have much to gain from a green-collar agenda.”
Sutley, in her remarks, pointed out the progress that states like California and cities like Los Angeles, where she is currently the deputy mayor, have made on climate and energy issues. She pledged to help restore the national government’s “rightful role” in leading on these polices.
“This is a pivotal moment in this nation’s history,” said Browner. “The challenge is immense, but the opportunities are even greater. The American people believe we can do better, and they are right. We can create jobs, reduce greenhouse gases, end dependence on foreign oil.”
A reporter asked Obama whether he plans to reinstate the moratorium on offshore drilling that expired in October. Obama said that during the campaign he “was open to the idea of offshore drilling if it was part of a comprehensive package to achieve energy independence,” but he was “not thrilled with it simply lapsing without … thought to what we need to do to achieve energy independence.” His team, he said, will be “thinking about a comprehensive strategy.”