Barack Obama, who has spent much of the time since his election
closeted with his advisers in Chicago, sent a strong signal yesterday
that he plans a decisive break with George Bush on environmental policy
once he moves into the White House.
The move was part of a
carefully coded series of messages from Obama meant to reassure America
and the world about the shape of his administration, which does not
assume power until January 20.
Also yesterday, Obama appointed
Madeleine Albright, who served as Bill Clinton's secretary of state,
and Jim Leach, a former Republican member of Congress from Iowa who
endorsed his campaign, to meet international delegations visiting
Washington for the G20 summit at the weekend. Obama will not attend the
summit, and aides have repeatedly noted that Bush remains president
until January 20.
But while Obama and Joe Biden, the vice
president-elect, have been elusive since the election, the Democrat has
delivered a number of messages intended to heighten anticipation of
changes to come.
In one such signal the president-elect sent
Jason Grumet, a policy adviser mentioned for a possible energy post, to
an environmental conference in Washington to offer reassurances that
there would be swift movement on climate change legislation. "The whole
transition team felt it important to be here," Grumet said. "I think it
is going to be a very very busy 2009, and I think we are going to need
all of you to be on top of your game."
However, Grumet did not
offer policy specifics, and his optimism was not shared by others at
the conference, organised by the consulting group Point Carbon and the
Pew Centre on Global Climate Change.
Jeff Bingaman, the New
Mexico senator who chairs the Senate's energy and national resources
committee and another possibility for a post in the administration,
said it was highly unlikely that Obama could sign into law cap and
trade legislation next year. "I think the reality is that it may take
more than a year to get it all done," he said, pointing to 2010.
brief appearance was widely seen as a signal that Obama, who for nearly
two years of campaigning warned of a "planet in peril", was serious
about following through on a 30-point environmental agenda that called
for creating green jobs, cutting US oil consumption, and moving to
renewable sources of energy,
It was the second time in 24 hours
that Obama had tried to reassure the world that he wanted a radical
departure from Bush's policy on the environment. Obama has said
repeatedly that the global economic crisis remains his top priority,
but John Podesta, part of the troika overseeing the transition, said on
Tuesday that the environment was at the top of the Democrats' agenda.
"I anticipate him moving very aggressively and very rapidly on the
whole question of transforming the energy platform in the United States
from high carbon energy to low carbon energy," he said.
campaigners, change cannot come soon enough. Yesterday the supreme
court rejected environmental protections for whales, dolphins and other
marine mammals imposed on US navy sonar training exercises off southern
California. Environmental groups had argued that intense sound waves
could hurt or even kill some 37 species including sea lions and
endangered blue whales by interfering with their ability to communicate
and navigate. At one stage Bush intervened by citing the national
security necessity of the training.
The hiatus between election
and inauguration has led to intense speculation about cabinet
appointments and policy breaks with the Bush White House.
the Washington Post reported that Obama intended to replace the two top
intelligence officials early in his administration. Mike McConnell, the
director of national intelligence, and General Michael Hayden, the CIA
chief, are associated with the Bush administration's most controversial
policies, including monitoring the email and phone calls of US citizens
without court oversight.
Some of the Obama camp's efforts to
stoke anticipation have been countered with caution - and at times
frustration. Yesterday Bingaman warned that Obama urgently needed to
appoint his cabinet secretaries. "The idea that the transition team
develops policies and then gets new people in place ... that is not the
way I have seen it in Washington," he said.