The influential Washington publication National Journal has dedicated its cover story to Carol Browner, President Obama’s incoming climate and energy adviser. The EPA administrator under President Clinton and a former board member of the Center for American Progress, Browner is a leading voice in progressive environmental policy. As former transition chief and current CAP president John Podesta explains, Browner’s selection reflects President Obama’s goal to change business in Washington:
If people want to continue in practices that were more appropriate in the 1950s than today, then I think that they’re going to have to understand that Obama campaigned on a promise of energy transformation. And he intends to fulfill it.
Obama’s ambitious campaign goals include five million green-collar jobs, “the implementation of an economy-wide cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions by the amount scientists say is necessary,” and a “whole new electricity grid.” With less than two weeks in office, his administration has already made major commitments toward the creation of a smart grid and the green collar jobs in the economic recovery package. The focus of the first meeting of Vice President Joe Biden’s middle-class task force will be green jobs. And Obama has signed directives to the EPA to begin the process of complying with the Supreme Court mandate to regulate greenhouse gases — hopefully spurring Congressional action to develop a cap and trade system.
Just as critically, Obama has already put in place a powerful team with the likes of Browner, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson, Council of Environmental Quality head Nancy Sutley, and top scientists Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, NOAA Director Jane Lubchenco, and White House science adviser John Holdren. These experts on climate policy will have to work with the other members of Obama’s Cabinet to achieve that “promise of energy transformation.”
And that’s where Browner comes in. One “industry lobbyist” who is wary of Browner described her in ways that make her sound remarkably like Dick Cheney, who controlled energy policy across agency lines in the previous administration:
Browner is the epitome of how to work this city. She knows every organization. She knows who to leak information to. She knows how to kill information, and she knows that she doesn’t want a paper trail. That is frightening.
It remains to be seen how Browner will operate, but time will tell if anonymous industry lobbyists’ fears are more accurate than Obama’s promises of transparency, accountability, and change. What the lobbyists more likely fear is that environmental policy will become effective and science-based. As Podesta explained, Carol Browner will fill a crucial role in the Obama administration:
When you have problems that really cut across a swath of agencies, it’s very important to have a strong central place within the White House where people can work on the same strategy and [make sure] that actions are keyed up and accountability exists. That has proven to be an effective way of doing business in the federal government on security policy, on economic policy. And now we’ll see it on environmental policy.