Muckraker: Grist on Politics

Various news outlets are reporting that President-elect Obama has settled on New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson to serve as Commerce secretary, adding another Clinton veteran to the incoming Cabinet. Richardson was Clinton’s ambassador to the United Nations from 1997 to 1998, and Energy secretary from 1998 to 2000.

The secretary of Commerce, according to the government’s description, is “the voice of business in government.” The department’s mission is “to foster, promote, and develop the foreign and domestic commerce” of the United States. While this isn’t an explicitly environmental or energy role, given Richardson’s background it’s possible he could use the post to advance green business at home and abroad.


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Bill Richardson

Bill Richardson.

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Richardson has a storied history in politics. From 1983 to 1997 he represented New Mexico’s 3rd district in the House. After the Clinton administration, he was elected governor of New Mexico in 2002. And, of course, he made a failed bid for the Democratic nomination this year, dropping out after the New Hampshire primary. On the campaign trail, he billed himself as the “energy president,” telling Grist that “the most important domestic and national-security issues involve America becoming energy independent and reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.”


He also spent some time as an adjunct professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, and in 2001 won a United States Institute of Peace Senior Fellowship, which enabled him to spend a year researching the energy dimensions of U.S. relations with North Korea. From 2001-2002, he served as the senior managing director at Kissinger McLarty Associates (which is now known as just McLarty Associates), the international business consulting firm headed by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Clinton White House chief of staff Mack McLarty.

Richardson also served on the board of three oil and natural gas companies, as well as a solar energy systems manufacturer and a private equity company that invested in the power sector. From 2001-2002, he served on the corporate board of Valero Energy Corporation, which refines and markets petroleum, before resigning to focus on the governor’s race. He sold his stock holdings in the company in 2007, when questions about them were raised during his campaign for president. He also served on the board of Diamond Offshore Drilling and oil and gas producer Venoco Inc.

Despite his ties to fossil fuels, Richardson has been bullish about capping carbon and investing in renewables. As governor, he made New Mexico the first state in the country to join the Chicago Climate Exchange, a voluntary carbon-trading marketplace. He signed executive orders in 2005 and 2006 to put in place plans to reduce state emissions, and joined with other governors to form the Western Regional Climate Action Initiative.

In March 2007, he signed a bill requiring the state’s large electric utilities to get 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2015 and 20 percent by 2020. He signed four other clean-energy bills in April 2007.

On the campaign trail, Richardson called for cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent below 2006 levels by 2020 and 90 percent by 2050; cutting oil demand 50 percent by 2020; raising fuel-economy standards for automobiles to 50 miles per gallon by 2020; and drawing 50 percent of electricity from renewables by 2040. He also wrote a book about his energy vision, Leading by Example: How We Can Inspire an Energy and Security Revolution, which was released in October 2007. Enviros were less excited about his plans for “clean coal” and his support for all manner of biofuels, but hailed his overall plan.

Of course, running Commerce is somewhat of a consolation prize for someone who wanted to be the commander in chief. But if Richardson wanted to be the “energy president,” maybe he’ll also want to be the “energy Commerce Secretary” … ?