Obama's Potential Green Team

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The Guardian/UK

Obama's Potential Green Team

Obama's potential green team Meet the people who might fill top environmental jobs in a Barack Obama administration.

by
From Grist, part of the Guardian Environment Network

 

So what exactly does change look
like? Barack Obama has ambitious energy and environmental plans. If he
wins on November 4, who will he recruit to carry them out? Will he rely
more heavily on Washington newcomers or on Clinton administration
veterans who know their way around the White House? (See who John
McCain might choose to green his White House here)

Obama's
choice for a transition team leader - John Podesta, former Clinton
chief of staff - suggests he's willing to look back to the Clinton
years for top staff. But Obama has also surrounded himself with bright
and accomplished advisers (note our interviews with energy policy chief
Jason Grumet and director Heather Zichal) who are newer to the national
scene. Will he fill Cabinet-level environmental jobs with fresh faces
or stick to a more traditional path with ex-governors and Washington
lawmakers? We asked campaign advisors, nonprofit conservation
advocates, think-tank types, lobbyists, academics, and friendly looking
folks behind us in line at the co-op. It's a cardinal sin in Washington
to openly speculate on these matters before an election, so we promised
confidentiality to many sources.

Secretary of Energy

Managing
the nation's energy policy and nuclear safety is one of the most
glamourless, thankless Cabinet-level positions, according to former
Department of Energy officials. The secretary oversees the nation's
nuclear weapons stockpile and nuclear waste disposal and a lot of
private contracts. "You get a whole lot of responsibility for
regulating, but you don't get a lot of credit for achieving good things
in the political process," said Walter Rosenbaum, a former DOE
consultant and energy policy scholar. Still, the position could take on
more prominence in the next administration, given the amount of
attention the candidates devoted to energy during the campaign.

Jason Grumet The
Obama campaign's lead energy and environment advisor first started
working with the senator when he arrived in Washington in 2005. In
helping Obama develop his energy platform, Jason Grumet drew from his
experience as head of the National Commission on Energy Policy and the
Bipartisan Policy Center. Grumet's think-tank work has focused on
building consensus among diverse interests, though the NCEP's 2004
energy report annoyed many environmentalists by calling for pollution
permits to be given free of charge to polluters and by supporting a
"safety valve" that would limit the price of pollution credits. This
job has traditionally gone to seasoned governors and lawmakers, but
Obama has shown affinity for policy wonks like Grumet. (Read a Grist
interview with Grumet.)

Ed Rendell With
energy issues in the national spotlight, a veteran politician with
deal-brokering experience could be at a premium. The Pennsylvania
governor has worked to curb mercury emissions from the state's
coal-fired power plants, adopted California's tough clean-car
regulations, and pushed tax credits and other measures to attract
renewable energy companies. Ed Rendell was one of Hillary Clinton's key
supporters during the Democratic primary, but has since campaigned for
Obama. If he delivers his swing state next month, this spot (or another
in Obama's Cabinet) could be his for the taking.

Dan Reicher Dan
Reicher [PDF] has recently talked up geothermal energy as the potential
"killer app" of the energy world. He gets his techie metaphors at
Google.org, the philanthropic arm of the search engine giant, where he
is director of climate change and energy initiatives. Before that he
worked as an assistant energy secretary under President Clinton, a
lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, and a sales executive
at a renewable energy firm. Reicher's knowledge of venture capital and
commercializing green technology make him an appealing candidate to
Bill Becker, executive director of the Presidential Climate Action
Project. "We're facing one of the most promising worldwide market
opportunities that we've ever had, and we need this kind savvy business
experience," Becker said. (Watch a Grist interview with Reicher.)

Environmental Protection Agency administrator

This
position is traditionally given Cabinet rank, meaning the EPA
administrator gets to sit at a long oval table in the West Wing. The
EPA enforces (or is supposed to enforce) the Clean Air Act, the Clean
Water Act, and the rest of the nation's environmental laws. The next
EPA administrator could also be charged with implementing a new
cap-and-trade carbon emissions program, which both candidates call for
(in different versions). "That would be one of the most complicated
acts ever to pass Congress," said Barry Rabe, a University of Michigan
environmental policy and climate change scholar. "It would call for a
level of cooperation across government agencies like [the formation of]
Homeland Security. And we know how difficult that has been."

Mary Nichols As
one of the key leaders working to implement California's groundbreaking
and ambitious 2006 climate law, Mary Nichols has eye-catching
qualifications for this job. She's been chair of the California Air
Resources Board since July 2007, reprising a role she held from 1978 to
1983 under Gov. Jerry Brown. In the early 1970s, she worked as an
environmental lawyer, spending time at the Natural Resources Defense
Council, then later going on to serve as secretary for California's
Resources Agency and a senior official in the Clinton EPA. Her
extraordinarily deep resume would be hard to match if government
experience factors heavily in Obama's decision.

Kathleen McGinty Pennsylvania's
top environmental official worked alongside Gov. Rendell in attracting
green businesses and regulating coal and manufacturers -- no small task
in the rust-belt state. As head of the state's Department of
Environmental Protection, Kathleen McGinty battled with Republicans and
coal industry officials and succeeded in establishing tough clean-air
standards. She was a long-time Al Gore aide who first worked on his
Senate staff in 1988. She chaired President Clinton's Council on
Environmental Quality, the first (and only) woman to hold that
position. She isn't part of Obama's inner circle of advisors, but
choosing her could signal to environmentalists that he takes their
concerns seriously. (Read a Grist interview with McGinty.)

Dan Esty A
top energy advisor for the Obama campaign, Dan Esty would bring both
EPA experience and academic policy chops. He served in George H.W.
Bush's EPA, helping to craft the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act
and the environmental provisions of NAFTA. He's now an environmental
law professor at Yale, where he's written recently on sustainable
business. In April he helped bring a group of governors to Yale to plot
ways to fight climate change. "With his closeness to the Obama campaign
and his record with the EPA, I think he would be one of the top
contenders," said University of Florida political scientist Walter
Rosenbaum. "He has a reputation as a moderate. But if you want someone
who could rally the environmental troops, he could do that."

Secretary of agriculture

The
secretary of agriculture oversees food and farm policy, and is charged
with everything from securing food safety to promoting agricultural
trade to fighting hunger. The USDA inspects and grades meats and
grains, administers crop and ethanol subsidies, hands out food stamps
and disaster relief, runs land conservation programs, and oversees
organic labeling. The U.S. Forest Service, with its 190 million acres
of forest and grassland, is also under the department's purview.
Sustainable-food guru Michael Pollan recently argued that our fossil
fuel-dependent food system can't go much longer without a locavorous
overhaul. An innovative thinker in this position would help.

Tom Vilsack The
former Iowa governor and presidential candidate fits the classic mold
for secretary of agriculture: a popular leader from a farm state
(though he grew up in Pittsburgh). Vilsack supported Hillary Clinton in
the Iowa primary, and if she had won the nomination, he'd be ordering
Secretary of Ag business cards right now. His decidedly moderate record
on farm policy may not appeal to Obama, but, like the Democratic
candidate, Vilsack strongly supports corn ethanol, at least as a bridge
to cellulosic ethanol. He instituted some new regulations on Iowa's
industrial hog farms, though watchdogs say he should've done much more.
And he understands that sustainable rural development means more than
just commodity farming. His recent op-ed in the Argus Leader (S.D.),
hometown paper to Obama confidante Tom Daschle, could be interpreted as
a letter of interest for the job. (Read a Grist interview with Vilsack.)

Tom Buis Tom
Buis is president of the National Farmer's Union, the more progressive,
small-farm-friendly of the two largest farm advocacy groups (the other
is the Farm Bureau). He was senior agricultural policy advisor to
Daschle, the Obama buddy and former Senate majority leader. And he was
a Hoosier grain and livestock farmer with his brothers Mike and Jeff,
who still run the family farm. Buis disappointed conservationists,
hunger-relief advocates, and fruit-and-vegetable growers by endorsing
last year's "sham reform" farm bill. Buis would be a
don't-rock-the-boat (or the tractor?) choice on crop subsidies and food
policy. Michael Pollan would not be happy.

Stephanie Herseth Sandlin South
Dakota's sole representative in the U.S. House has made a name for
herself as a prairie populist along the lines of Montana Gov. Brian
Schweitzer (D). Stephanie Herseth Sandlin directed the South Dakota
Farmers Union Foundation before getting elected to the House, where
she's a member of the Blue Dog Coalition of fiscally conservative
Democrats. She sits on the House Agriculture Committee, a position
that's allowed her send bountiful shares of federal crop subsidies back
to her home state. If Obama wants substantial farm-policy reform, the
House Ag Committee might be the last place to look. If he wants a
charismatic leader who's pledged to put rural concerns before
left-right ideology, Herseth Sandlin could be a possibility.

Secretary of the interior

The
Department of the Interior manages 500 million acres, about 20 percent
of all U.S. land, and also wields significant control over energy
reserves, dealing with coal and mineral deposits on public land,
offshore oil, and many hydroelectric dams. National parks, national
wildlife refuges, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land
Management, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Bureau of Indian
Affairs also fall under the department's umbrella. Fifteen of the last
16 interior secretaries have come from Western states, where most
public land lies. Break that tradition at your own peril, Mr.
President-elect.

Brian Schweitzer The
bolo-tied governor of Montana is mentioned as a Rising Star of the
Democratic Party often enough to have it engraved on his belt buckle.
He advocates a use-'em-all approach to energy sources, including "clean
coal," liquefied coal, and Montana oil as well as renewable sources. A
rancher who chose a Republican as a running mate for lieutenant
governor, Brian Schweitzer has a knack for talking about natural
resources and land-use issues in down-to-earth language. "He can speak
to the West," said Bill Becker. "He's shown a talent for bridging the
gap between the new West and the old West. What that means in energy
terms is bridging the gap between fossil energy and renewable energy."

Jamie Rappaport Clark Bill
Clinton's former Fish and Wildlife Service director managed Endangered
Species Act protections and oversaw a massive expansion of the National
Wildlife Refuge System. After 20 years in government, Jamie Rappaport
Clark landed at Defenders of Wildlife, where she, well, defends
wildlife. She has testified in Congress against Bush's Interior
Department, calling it to task for manipulating science to undermine
the ESA. "There are few [people] if anybody who knows more about these
issues than Jamie does," said Leda Clark, executive director of
Endangered Species Coalition. "She has a very practical sense of the
problems and potential fixes in the department." One issue: She was a
military child who grew up in part in California and Okinawa, along
with North Carolina and Georgia. It's tough to argue that makes her a
Westerner, though a Changer-in-Chief might be willing to buck that
tradition. (Read a Grist Q&A with Rappaport Clark.)

Jay Inslee The
suburban Seattle congressman has earned the favor of conservationists
through his leadership in protecting open spaces and wildlife. He
sought to preserve roadless areas against Bush administration
encroachment and has been one of the House's steadiest voices opposing
logging on public lands. Jay Inslee has a lower political profile than
Schweitzer and the other Western governors who could be offered this
job. He wouldn't be a popular choice with Republicans, so Obama would
have to think carefully about burning the political capital required to
get Inslee's nomination confirmed. But his work on renewable energy,
including his book Apollo's Fire: Igniting America's Clean Energy
Economy, jives with Obama's focus.

Bonus position: climate change czar

By
creating a prominent new position and staff, à la Homeland Security,
the next president could send a clear message that he plans to take
global warming seriously. Whether such a move would be smart governing
is another matter. Creating new job titles and shuffling around
departments willy-nilly is no guarantee of getting anything
accomplished, of course. Rather than presiding over a significant
restructuring of departments, a "climate change czar" could function
more as a special environmental adviser to the president. Then again,
the chair of the Council on Environmental Quality is already charged
with that job. (Look for a trusted advisor and policy wonk like
Chicagoan Howard Learner to fill that role for Obama.) Still, after a
year of squabbling over flag pins, both candidates ought to know that
symbolism matters, and the symbolic weight of a new position might be
worth the effort.

Bill Richardson Saving the
planet might be the next logical challenge for a guy who's already been
a U.S. representative, ambassador to the U.N., energy secretary,
governor of New Mexico, and international peace negotiator in North
Korea and Darfur. As governor, Bill Richardson signed an aggressive
energy package that, among other things, required all investor-owned
electrical utilities to generate 10 percent of their energy from
renewable sources by 2011. As a presidential candidate, he unveiled an
ambitious energy plan that included a carbon cap-and-trade system to
cut greenhouse-gas emissions 90 percent by 2050 and a pledge to cut
U.S. oil demand by 50 percent by 2020. He promised to be the first true
"energy president" before dropping out of the Democratic primary and
endorsing Obama. If he's ready to leave the governor's mansion in Santa
Fe, this position could be an appealing fit.

Terry Tamminen As
a top advisor to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), Terry
Tamminen helped engineer California's ambitious 2006 carbon
cap-and-trade plan. He then left the state in a quest to become a
"Johnny Appleseed" of climate action, spreading plans and ideas for
cutting greenhouse gases to leaders across the country, including
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R). He gained administrative experience
during a stint as head of the California EPA from 2003 to 2004, and he
wrote the 2006 book Lives Per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil
Addiction. As a Democrat who worked under a Republican governor,
Tamminen would be a good fit for Obama's post-partisan philosophy.
(Read a Grist interview with Tamminen, and still more about Tamminen.)

Al Gore As
a former vice president and creator of the highly influential film An
Inconv -- OK, you already know all about the guy. If Obama wants to
name a climate czar, Al Gore would certainly be at the top of the short
list; Obama has said as much. Gore would bring knowledge, expertise,
and unparalleled star power (unless Bono took the job ...), and he
could clank his Nobel Peace Prize on the table for added gravitas at
cabinet meetings. But would Gore want another government job? Last year
he said no. He's been much more effective (and happy) talking about the
climate crisis as a private citizen than as a government official, so
it would likely take an unprecedented Obama charm offensive to get Gore
into any formal position. But Obama can be a charming guy ...

This article was shared by Grist, part of the Guardian Environment Network

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