Some enviros are annoyed that PEBO chose a national security adviser (NSA), retired Marine Gen. James Jones, who has emphasized energy security concerns over global warming — see, for instance, this lame transition report on energy (PDF) Jones just oversaw for the US Chamber of Commerce.

The Politico actually just interviewed me on this very subject, and I told them I wouldn’t lose a minute’s sleep over it (and you all thought they wouldn’t talk to me after this, but then again they mostly ignored what I said in their story, as evidenced by the headline “Jones gives hope to energy companies“).

Let’s be clear here: Of the national security team, the NSA is all but irrelevant on the key issues of climate and domestic energy policy. Only the Secretary of State (SOS) really matters — and here PEBO chose a grand slam home run for climate science advocates (CSAs).

[Note: With a new green and progressive administration starting to take the reins of power, I thought I’d begin (another) series, this one to share my experience in the executive branch. I spent five years at the Department of Energy in the 1990s — two years as special assistant for policy and planning to the deputy secretary and three years as principal deputy assistant secretary (PDAS) in the office of energy efficiency and renewable energy (EERE), including six months as acting assistant secretary. BTW, the feds love acronyms.]

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Back to the NSA and energy/climate policy. The coverage on this issue has not been informative. E&E News begins its irrelevantly headlined story, “Obama’s security adviser seeks offshore drilling, shale production” (subs. req’d):

President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for national security adviser has recently called for domestic oil shale production and permanently ending limits on offshore oil and gas drilling — views starkly at odds with those of environmentalists, who are hoping Obama will champion their agenda.

So what? You might as well do a story on Gen. Jones’ views on universal health care. The NSA’s views on domestic oil shell production and offshore drilling are utterly beside the point.

I cannot imagine that anybody in the White House cares what Jones thinks about issues that are not in his portfolio, nor can I imagine that Jones will waste one iota of political capital pushing issues that are not only not in his portfolio but that are explicitly in other people’s portfolio and that PEBO has already publicly stated his policy on.

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It simply is not the way the executive branch works. Indeed, the National Security Council didn’t insert themselves in these issues when I was in government — and now it seems likely that Obama will have some sort of energy czar operating out of the White House who will explicitly oversee interagency disputes on this subject.

If you want a good summary of Jones’ flawed, security-centric energy views, read Desmogblog’s “Obama’s Security Chief From Big Oil?” but ignore the hyperbole:

If he is named National Security Adviser to Obama, Jones will be in a powerful position to make these environmental roll-backs happen.

As NSA, I’m not sure Jones will even bother sending a senior representative to most of the meetings that actually discuss and set domestic energy policy or even international climate policy.

Similarly Keith Johnson of the WSJ could not be more wrong when he wrote today:

By tapping General James Jones as his national security adviser, President-elect Barack Obama is indicating that the great energy debate will take place at the epicenter of U.S. national security–and that the outcome of that debate will look more like “all of the above” and less like a “green revolution.”

The NSA plays no role whatsoever in the “great energy debate” that will set domestic energy policy. To repeat, I doubt Jones will even bother sending a senior representative to most of the relevant meetings.

Seriously, the Commerce Secretary provides far more input than the NSA into domestic energy and climate policy, since he is supposed to represent U.S. business interests — and here again Obama hit a grand slam home run by picking Bill Richardson, who will represent the interests of the new green industries he has championed for so long, and not just traditional Chamber of Commerce types who oppose serious domestic action and who hire people like Jones to write lame old-school energy policies.

When I was at DOE, it was the State Department that convened the meetings that thrashed out the domestic greenhouse gas emissions reduction target we were going to propose at Kyoto. I don’t remember the National Security Council being significantly involved. At the one sort of Cabinet-level meeting I attended on the subject, again I don’t remember seeing or hearing from the NSC.

The NSC would play a role in international energy security crises, say a terrorist incident in Saudi Arabia. And here it is probably better than not to have somebody like Gen. Jones, who, besides his many obvious qualifications for the job of NSA, is quite knowledgeable on energy matters. But again, in my five years at DOE, I can’t remember the NSC once weighing in the formulation of domestic energy policy. The National Economic Council did weigh in, of course, but the NEC’s role is likely to be replaced in an Obama administration by some sort of national energy council — and yes, they had better come up with a name that doesn’t have the same acronym as the original NEC.

I don’t know why the media simply refuses to take Obama at his word on his commitment to clean energy and strong action on climate — “The science is beyond dispute … Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response.” But for those who insist on trying to read the tea leaves of his national security team to figure out what he “really” thinks, judge him by his choice of Hillary Clinton for SOS, a position that is central to our international climate negotiating.

Clinton has been a leader on climate issues for a long time. And she made strong climate action a cornerstone of her run for the president (see “Clinton’s outstanding energy and climate plan“). I expect she will weigh in heavily on climate policy — and that is all to the good.

Now you might say, “but the NSA has the ear of the President — won’t Gen. Jones be in a position to give the President terrible advice on, say, domestic oil shale production?” And I would reply, “Why would Jones waste the time and patience of the President — not to mention his own political capital and credibility — offering opinions on subjects that are not in his portfolio, and therefore represent issues that he does not follow closely and does not stay actively engaged on in high-level interagency meetings? Why would he piss off the Secretary of Energy, the SOS, the energy czar and EPA administrator (among others) by going behind their backs or over their heads to undercut whatever policies that the relevant agencies and the relevant interagency councils had agreed upon.”

Seriously, this isn’t the way the executive branch works. You have a portfolio of subjects, and you make yourself the Administration’s expert on those subjects, and you staff up on those subjects, and you send your staff to the relevant interagency meetings, and you attend the relevant Cabinet meetings. You pick your battles very carefully and you don’t piss off your colleagues by intruding into their portfolio because on issues where your portfolios do intersect, you want them to support you, and on all other issues, you don’t want them to intrude on you either.

These cabinet level jobs are absurdly hard as it is. Heck, I had an acting assistant Secretary job for six months and it was a pure burnout job. I don’t know how people do it for four years, but they don’t do it by pissing on other’s people’s front yards — or back yards.

So I stand by what I told the Politico. In case you didn’t actually read the story to the very end:

Joseph Romm, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, isn’t overly concerned about Jones’ views on energy and security, because the national security adviser’s role on domestic energy issues has historically been small.

As secretary of state, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), will likely play a larger role in climate issues in terms of the industries and technologies that the U.S. promotes overseas.

“I don’t see how the national security adviser has a big role in the energy strategy, particularly because it looks like there will be an energy and climate czar. Is it good that we have a national security adviser who is well informed on energy? Yes,” Romm said. “But I wouldn’t lose a lot of sleep over whether something he said is not exactly the same as what Obama has said.”

Now there are some recent high level appointments I worry about from a climate perspective, but they will be the subject of another post.

This post was created for, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

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