President-elect Obama has named his choices to lead his energy, environment and climate change teams and agencies. B&D Consulting presents a brief background on these people and the confirmation process, including questions they may face during their Senate hearings.

Secretary of Energy: Steven Chu

Steven Chu is currently the Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Professor of Physics and Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1997, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work with laser cooling and atom trapping. As head of the Berkeley lab, he pressed his scientific team to focus on climate change and investigate new, carbon-free sources of energy. He has been an advocate for a new research entity within the Energy Department modeled after the Defense Department's research arm.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator: Lisa Jackson

Lisa Jackson has served as the head of New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection from 2006 to 2008 and currently serves as Gov. Corzine's Chief of Staff. She helped the state pass mandatory greenhouse gas reduction laws and become an alternative energy leader. She also sat on the executive board of the Northeastern states' Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade program. A chemical engineer, Jackson worked for 16 years at U.S. EPA, mostly in Superfund hazardous waste cleanup and enforcement roles in Washington, D.C. and New York City.

White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairperson: Nancy Sutley

Nancy Sutley is currently Los Angeles' deputy mayor for energy and environment. She served previously as California Gov. Gray Davis' energy adviser and on the state's Water Resources Control Board. During the Clinton administration, she was an adviser to EPA's Region 9 office and also an assistant to former EPA head Carol Browner.

Climate Change Czar: Carol Browner

Carol Browner, currently a Principal at the Albright Group, was EPA administrator under President Bill Clinton. She previously served as Legislative Director to Sen. Al Gore. She has been a vocal critic of the Bush Administration's EPA and has advocated more stringent scientific analysis in EPA decision making. In 2008 congressional testimony, she laid out the roles that the U.S. Treasury and EPA should play in a potential cap-and-trade system.

Senate Confirmation Process

The U.S. Constitution gives the Senate responsibility for considering and confirming the President's executive and judicial nominations. Currently more than 300 positions in 14 cabinet agencies and more than 100 positions in independent and other agencies are filled through Presidential nomination and Senate confirmation. The Constitution provides for the Senate to “advise and consent” to the President’s nominations. Steven Chu, Lisa Jackson and Nancy Sutley will face this confirmation process.

These nominations from a newly elected President are unlikely to generate conflict between the White House and Capitol Hill. Questions of public policy have come to dominate confirmation deliberations. Any conflicts will likely involve policy differences with opposing party Senators.

What to Expect and Indications of Policy

Policy issues Senators may raise with Steven Chu, Lisa Jackson and Nancy Sutley include the following:

Department of Energy - Steven Chu

The Department of Energy’s mission is to advance the national, economic and energy security of the United States; to promote scientific and technological innovation in support of that mission; and to ensure the environmental cleanup of the national nuclear weapons complex. The Department’s eight program offices, six separately organized agencies and 21 National Laboratories and Technology Centers work together to accomplish this mission. For fiscal year 2009, the Department requested more than $25 billion to implement its programs, including $5.3 billion for environmental cleanup, $6.6 for nuclear weapon activities and more than $5 billion for science and technology.

Beyond specific issues are concerns over continued problems with the Department’s contract administration and project management of large and complex projects, as well as the Department’s human capital challenge of developing and retaining a skilled work force capable of overseeing those projects.

  • Filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve
  • Developing Advanced Energy Technologies
  • Addressing Concerns about Renewable Fuels
  • Improving Energy Efficiency
  • Transforming the Nuclear Weapons Complex
  • Addressing the Threat of Climate Change
  • Strengthening Cyber Security
  • Consolidating Surplus Nuclear Material
  • Assessing Nonproliferation Efforts

Environmental Protection Agency - Lisa Jackson

The mission of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to protect human health and the environment by implementing and enforcing environmental laws intended to improve the quality of our air and water and to protect our land. Key environmental laws include the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (or Superfund). The agency comprises nine major offices generally aligned with major environmental laws and 10 regional offices. For fiscal year 2009, the agency requested $7.14 billion, including $940 million for clean air and climate change, $2.58 billion for clean water and $1.69 billion for land restoration.

The topics likely to be addressed during the Senate confirmation process include:

  • Addressing the Threat of Climate Change
  • Ensuring Sound Science as a Basis for Environmental Policy
  • Providing More Effective Controls over Toxic Substances
  • Ensuring Consistent Environmental Enforcement and Compliance
  • Reducing Pollution in the Nation’s Water Bodies
  • Speeding the Pace of Cleanup of Hazardous Waste Sites
  • Ensuring the Safety of the Nation’s Drinking Water
  • Addressing Challenges in Implementing the Clean Air Act
  • Improving the Development and Use of Environmental Information
  • Addressing Human Capital Management Challenges at EPA
  • Addressing Concerns about Renewable Fuels
  • Improving Energy Efficiency

Chair, White House Council on Environmental Quality - Nancy Sutley

The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) was established within the Executive Office of the President pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. It is a division of the White House responsible for the coordination of federal environmental efforts, working closely with agencies and other White House offices in the development of environmental and energy policies and initiatives. The CEQ reports annually to the President on the state of the environment; oversees federal agency implementation of the environmental impact assessment process; and acts as a referee when agencies disagree over the adequacy of such assessments.

After nearly 40 years experience with the NEPA procedures, an original prime purpose of the CEQ may be less important, as agencies and grantees understand NEPA requirements. The incoming CEQ leader, as in other recent Administrations, may be somewhat in search of a defining mission.

White House Climate Czar - Carol Browner

As a Member (although high ranking) of the White House staff, Carol Browner's appointment is not subject to a Senate confirmation process. Her official title will be "Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change" or "Energy Coordinator," and she will coordinate environmental, energy, climate and related matters for the federal government similar to the way that the CEQ does for environmental policy. Ms. Browner will also serve as the Obama Administration's chief policy advisor on these issues, essentially creating an office that not only develops ideas but oversees their implementation.

President-elect Obama has designated his nomination of three other Cabinet officials, Senator Ken Salazar for Secretary of the Interior, Governor Tom Vilsack for Secretary of Agriculture and Representative Hilda Solis for Secretary of Labor. Each of these Departments will also be engaged in energy and green issues. Expect this newly created position of Climate Czar to be responsible for coordinating President-elect Obama's green economic agenda between all government entities.

Commentary

The future Obama Administration has signaled its intent to focus on economic growth and jobs, and will focus on the green sector as our nation begins its transformation from a fossil-fuel based economy to an economy driven by clean and alternative energy. In many ways, the downturn in the economy couldn't have come at a better time as the world begins negotiations on climate change and a successor agreement to Kyoto. Practically every economic analysis forecasts costs to the world's economies in mitigating climate change. But when you're at the bottom of a recession cycle, there's no where to go but up; making the right investments will make all the difference. With the right green investment strategy, the United States has the opportunity to build an efficient, competitive and healthier environment which can serve as a basis for economic growth for many years to come.