In a newsletter earlier this year, we engaged in some forecasting about how the political landscape may shift and affect environmental policy. Since that time, presidential candidates debated, formulated and refined environmental policy. Senator Obama emerged as the victor, and has rapidly begun to cast his environmental policy into an action plan. President-elect Obama's appointees have begun making their formal comments, giving us an early look to what we may expect in the coming months and years.
On December 15, President-elect Obama appointed Dr. Steven Chu to lead the Department of Energy, Lisa Jackson to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Nancy Suntley to chair the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and Carol Browner to serve as White House climate change "czar." The President-elect rounded out his energy and environmental team on December 17, by naming Senator Ken Salazar as Secretary of the Interior and Governor Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture.
In remarks that prefaced the introduction of Chu, Jackson, Suntley, and Browner, the President-elect warned of the "urgent dangers" posed by both climate change and America's "addiction to foreign oil." He also outlined his vision for a "new energy economy":
The pursuit of a new energy economy requires a sustained, all-hands-on-deck effort because the foundation of our energy independence is right here, in America -- in the power of wind and solar; in new crops and new technologies; in the innovation of our scientists and entrepreneurs, and the dedication and skill of our workforce. Those are the resources we must harness to move beyond our oil addiction and create a new, hybrid economy.
In addressing environmental issues, the President-elect pledged that his administration "will value science" and "will make decisions based on the facts." Vice President-elect Biden stated that "[t]he President-elect has made it clear that this will be an administration and a White House . . . committed to . . . leading and combating the threat of climate change and reinvigorating our commitment to a cleaner environment."
Members of the energy and environmental team described the environmental challenges facing the new administration. Ms. Jackson stated that "now more than ever, our country is in need of leadership on a host of urgent environmental challenges that face our communities, our cities, our farms, and our rivers, streams, lakes, and oceans." She praised the President-elect's "green-collar economic agenda" and stated that climate change is at "the top of the list" of challenges facing EPA. Ms. Browner pledged that America will take a leading role in "shaping an environmentally sustainable world economy."
The President-elect and his transition team have made no secret of the fact that they consider economic recovery, energy independence, and environmental protection to be important and closely-related policy objectives. Climate change will be a key focus, and the new leaders of key agencies and commissions are committing to work together for a coordinated response to the many articulated challenges that have been intensely debated over the past year.