Obama’s Green Team

Yesterday, President-elect Barack Obama announced his top energy and environment officials, a “Green Team” who will be leading the effort to fight global warming by building a sustainable economy. Obama selected Dr. Steven Chu as Secretary of Energy and Lisa Jackson as Environmental Protection Agency Administrator. He announced two top White House officials: Nancy Sutley as chair of the Council on Environmental Quality and Carol Browner as chief energy and climate policy adviser, a new position advocated by the Center for American Progress. Obama also tapped Heather Zichal to be the Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change. The Wonk Room takes a look at the five picks below.


Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate ChangeBACKGROUND: Browner, 52, ran the Environmental Protection Agency during the entire Clinton presidency. She has continued her leadership on energy and the environment since leaving the EPA. A principal at the Albright Group consulting firm and chair of the National Audubon Society, Browner is a director at the Center for American Progress, Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection, the League of Conservation Voters, and the National Brownfields Association. She has been a top adviser on Obama’s transition team, overseeing energy policy and meeting with environmental leaders.



“When the government steps up and says there’s a requirement . . . what the government is doing is creating a market opportunity. American innovation and American ingenuity time and time again has risen to that challenge, and inevitably more quickly and at less cost than was anticipated.” [CAPAF, 12/1/08]


White House Environmental AdviserBACKGROUND: Sutley, the openly gay daughter of Argentinean immigrants, is the Deputy Mayor for Energy and the Environment for the City of Los Angeles. She has led the implementation of Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa’s ambitious green economic agenda, including the Clean Air Action Plan, Million Trees LA, and the C40 Climate Leadership Group. During her eight-year tenure in the Clinton EPA, she served as special assistant to Administrator Browner and senior policy adviser to the San Francisco regional administrator. Jonathan Parfrey, director of Green LA, told the Wonk Room, “She’s a wonk in the best possible meaning of the word,” and praised her encyclopedic knowledge of environmental policy. “People do underestimate her,” said Los Angeles Harbor Commissioner Jerilyn Lopez Mendoza to the Los Angeles Times. “Remember, she’s also short. So they see this tiny little person, and I think they dismiss her. And they do so at their peril.”


“Cities are the first responders. If climate change causes more local forest fires, we have to deal with that on a city level. We can’t afford to wait for national or international action.” [CityMayors, 2/15/07]


Secretary of EnergyBACKGROUND: Chu, a Nobel laureate quantum physicist and the son of Chinese immigrants, is the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a DOE-funded research institute. He has been on a “mission” to make the lab “the world leader in alternative and renewable energy research, particularly the development of carbon-neutral sources of energy.” He was an early advocate of finding scientific solutions to climate change. As one of 30 members of the Copenhagen Climate Council, Chu is part of an effort to push the international community to have the “urgency to establish a global treaty by 2012 which is fit for the purpose of limiting global warming to 2ºC.”


On the effectiveness of efficiency standards: “[The refrigerator manufacturers] said the American consumer can’t pay for that. And they worked very hard for a couple of years. But in the end, both the Republicans and the Democrats said, ‘No, this is a good thing. We’re going to pass this standard. What happened, miraculously, was the manufacturers had to assign the job to the engineers instead of the lobbyists.” [National Clean Energy Summit, 8/18/08]


Environmental Protection Agency AdministratorBACKGROUND: Jackson, 46, is a Princeton-educated chemical engineer from the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Jackson worked 16 years for the Environmental Protection Agency before becoming head of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) under Gov. Jon Corzine (D). Jackson has “worked to pass mandatory reductions in greenhouse gases, to reform the state’s cleanup of contaminated sites and to establish a scientific advisory board to review agency decisions.” But her administration of the budget-strapped agency has received criticism for “suppression of scientific information, issuance of gag orders,” and “closed-door deal-making with regulated industry executives and lobbyists.”


Gov. Jon Corzine (D-NJ): “Lisa Jackson is, without question in my mind, someone who has overwhelmingly been successful as an environmentalist, but also she has also been a person who understands that we have to move in a disciplined thoughtful manner. We can’t do everything at once. . . I think Lisa has done a remarkable job of trying to move the environmental agenda forward within a constrained world.” [Wonk Room, 12/9/08]


Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate ChangeBACKGROUND: Zichal, 32, managed energy and environmental policy for both Sen. John Kerry’s (D-MA) 2004 presidential bid and Obama’s 2008 campaign. Hailing from Iowa, Zichal graduated from Rutgers University before serving as legislative director for Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and later for Kerry. Zichal is a member of the energy and environmental policy transition team.


“Rather than taking the backseat [as] we’ve done under the Bush administration, by taking a leadership role, charging forward, and making an aggressive commitment in this area, we will be able to provide the leadership and reengage in the international community and show this commitment, and have a better chance of bringing other countries on board with a domestic cap-and-trade program.” [Grist, 10/6/08]