Obama's Green Team

The Green Team.
Clockwise from top left: Carol Browner, Lisa Jackson, Nancy Sutley, and Steven Chu.

Obama’s green team hasn’t yet been made official (and probably won’t be until next week), but his rumored choices are eliciting passionate reactions nonetheless. Enviros, for the most part, are pleased with the picks, while business-oriented interests are offering more guarded reviews.

Everyone agreed, however, that the expected nominees — Lisa Jackson to head the U.S. EPA, Steven Chu as energy secretary, Nancy Sutley as chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, and Carol Browner as the so-called “energy czar” — herald major changes in federal policy.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“It’s pretty clear that President-elect Obama’s picks represent a 180-degree change in terms of what direction they’re going to be heading on critical issues facing the country,” said Anna Aurilio, director of the D.C. office of Environment America. “We’re thrilled that he has picked people who are absolutely heading in the right direction, believe that global warming is a problem, believe that clean energy can solve it, and absolutely believe in the economic-recovery effect of these solutions,” she continued.

League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski went so far as to call the choices a “green dream team” in a press release Thursday morning. He said they will “help President-elect Obama’s vision for solving our economic and global warming challenges through clean energy become a reality.”

Carol Browner

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free. All donations DOUBLED!

Jackson, Chu, and Sutley are relative unknowns on the national political stage, but Browner — the longest-serving EPA administrator in history and a well-known enviro wonk — is a name that draws strong responses from fans and critics alike.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Though enviros weren’t always happy with Browner when she headed the EPA during the Clinton administration, they’re excited to have her return to federal government in what will be a brand-new role.

“We think she’s a terrific choice,” said Aurilio. “We think it’s a sign of how seriously [Obama] takes [climate and energy issues] … He couldn’t have picked a better person than Carol Browner.”

Dan Weiss, director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress (where Browner sits on the board), also lauded the choice. He was among those plugging for the Obama camp to create a new position to coordinate climate and energy policy from the White House. “It’s essential that there’s one person there helping coordinate activities, to make sure that after a course is chosen, that all oars row in the same direction,” he said.

Weiss offered another analogy for the role: “President-elect Obama is the coach, calling the plays. Carol Browner is the quarterback, running the offense. All these other agencies are important members of the team, and we cannot score clean-energy victories without everybody working together.”

The business-oriented think tanks are considerably less jazzed about Browner, citing her regulatory history during the Clinton years as reason to fear what she might do as “czar.”

Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said selecting her to fill the post would be a “most unfortunate decision.”

“She worked for Al Gore and shares many of his wildest opinions,” Ebell said in a statement. “Although the Senate won’t have a chance to vote on her appointment, someone needs to ask her whether she agrees with Mr. Gore, for example, that all coal-fired power plants must be replaced by renewable energy within a decade. Or whether sea levels are going to rise 20 feet in the next four decades.”

Kenneth Green, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who focuses on energy and environmental policy, was critical as well. “Carol Browner is quite an adversarial sort,” he said. “She’s quite heavily partisan.”

Green said he’s glad Browner is not reprising her role at the head of EPA, but he’s concerned about what her new job might entail. “What kind of power would she have?” he asked. He wonders how the new post will relate to the EPA and the departments of energy, commerce, labor, and interior. “It’s hard for me to see how she’s going to overcome the political economy of the agencies,” he said.

(More background on Browner.)

Steven Chu

For the most part, people across the board offered praise for the other picks, especially Chu, who currently directs the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

CEI’s Ebell called Chu “well qualified to serve as secretary of energy,” though he worried that Chu will pour “billions of dollars into renewable-energy boondoggles.”

Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, which lobbies on behalf of the power sector, praised Chu: “His experience seems to dovetail perfectly with the president-elect’s commitment to bringing new energy technology to market in a timely fashion,” he said. “An understanding of the art of the possible in energy technology will be critical to the development of a cost-effective climate-change policy.”

LCV’s Karpinski hailed the nomination of a Nobel Prize-winning physicist to head DOE, saying it heralds “a new age for energy policy, one in which we decide our country’s energy future based on science instead of politics.”

And Weiss of CAP offered yet another analogy over at Wonk Room: “Following on the heels of the anti-science Bush administration, it’s like going to Mensa after spending eight years in the Flat Earth Society.”

(More background on Chu.)

Lisa Jackson

There’s been some controversy over Lisa Jackson’s record as commissioner of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection, but state environmental leaders had good things to say about her.

“The president-elect has made it clear that converting to a clean energy economy and addressing global warming are top priorities for his administration,” said Dena Mottola Jaborska, executive director of Environment New Jersey. “Lisa Jackson has championed these issues in New Jersey and her skills, talents, and experience in New Jersey make her the best choice to partner with President-elect Obama as he crafts long overdue national solutions to global warming and our energy crisis.”

AEI’s Green noted that Jackson worked cooperatively with New Jersey businesses and therefore might run “a less-activist EPA” than Browner. “Jackson spearheaded an interesting initiative in New Jersey to streamline permitting that had a very strong, business-friendly orientation,” said Green. “Her track record is one of working with business to make things streamlined and compatible as opposed to persecuting, or prosecuting, business.”

(More background on Jackson.)

Nancy Sutley

Warner Chabot, incoming CEO of the California League of Conservation Voters, offered rave reviews for Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Nancy Sutley, who’ll be heading up the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “In summary, Nancy Sutley rocks!”

“She is smart (really, really smart),” he wrote in a statement, “a rare, political/policy expert who really listens to all sides and doesn’t need to show off her superior knowledge in group situations; a great team player, diplomatic, and equally politically savvy, pragmatic, and idealistic; one of the most ethical, effective environmental policy leaders in government.”

He also noted that Sutley has a “wry, sardonic sense of humor.”

With all the big problems and major initiatives that Obama’s new green team will need to tackle, that sense of humor will certainly be an asset.

(More background on Sutley.)