State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


A Quick Guide to Obama’s Climate Picks, Part 1

There’s been a lot of buzz lately (for example, here and here) about President-Elect Obama’s picks for key science and environment positions, many of who are advocates for a robust response to climate change. Who are these people and what will each of them be responsible for in the new administration? In part one of this post, we explore three of Obama’s nominees – Carol Browner, Steven Chu, and Lisa Jackson. Read on for descriptions of the appointees and their new roles.

Asterisks indicate positions that require Senate confirmation.

Carol Browner: Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change

Bio: Carol Browner, who has said climate change is “the greatest challenge ever faced,” was the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency during all eight years of the Clinton presidency. Before her appointment in the Obama administration, she worked as a Principal at the Albright Group, a consulting firm, where she focused on issues of environmental protection, energy conservation, energy security, and climate change. Browner also served as the Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation from 1991 to 1993, and as Legislative Director for Senator Al Gore from 1989 to 1991. Browner holds both a bachelor’s degree and a law degree from the University of Florida.

Responsibilities: The Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change is a new position; as such, the range of responsibilities that Browner will have are unclear. The general sense is that Browner will focus on coordinating the efforts of agencies whose work is related to climate change, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, rather than taking on functions currently assigned to such agencies.

Steven Chu: Secretary of Energy*

Bio: A 1997 Nobel Prize winner in physics, Dr. Steven Chu is currently the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a professor of both physics and cellular and molecular biology at the University of California, Berkeley. A proponent of action to address climate change, Dr. Chu made research and development of renewable energy technologies a priority during his tenure at LBNL. Before joining LBNL, Dr. Chu was a professor of physics and applied physics at Stanford University (1987-2004), and worked at AT&T Bell Labs (1978-1987). Dr. Chu holds a bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics from the University of Rochester and a doctorate in physics from the University of California, Berkeley. If confirmed, Dr. Chu will replace current Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman.

Responsibilities: As head of the Department of Energy, Dr. Chu will oversee the agency responsible for federal government activities related to energy, including research and development of energy technologies and promotion of energy efficiency and conservation. Dr. Chu’s strong support for renewable energy sources could mean we’ll see more emphasis on this area at DOE in the coming years.

Lisa Jackson: Environmental Protection Agency Administrator*

Bio: Presently the chief of staff for New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, Lisa Jackson was the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection from 2006 to 2008. Before taking on the role of commissioner, Jackson held other positions within NJDEP and spent 16 years working for the Environmental Protection Agency. While at NJDEP, Jackson contributed to the development of the Northeastern States Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade program for carbon dioxide emissions in signatory states. Jackson holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Tulane University and a master’s degree in the same field from Princeton University. If confirmed, Jackson will replace current EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.

Responsibilities: As EPA administrator, Jackson will oversee the federal agency responsible for developing and enforcing environmental regulations. Under President George W. Bush, the EPA has argued that the agency should not be responsible for regulating greenhouse gas emissions (most notably here and here). We’ll likely see this resistance disappear if Jackson, who has said she will support the cap-and-trade system in Obama’s energy plan, is confirmed.

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