Obama names energy team, vows new tack
President-elect is seen as making departure from current administration. Aim is to develop renewable energy, cap greenhouse gasses and create jobs.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- President-elect Barack Obama unveiled his energy and environment team on Monday, ushering in what's likely to be a dramatic shift in the way the nation tackles the challenges of climate change, energy efficiency and the development of cleaner sources of fuel.
The team -- the subject of speculation for weeks -- includes Nobel-prize-winning physicist Steven Chu as Energy secretary and former Environmental Protection Agency head Carol Browner in a newly created position to coordinate energy and climate policy.
"In the 21st century, we know that the future of our economy and national security is inextricably linked with one challenge - energy," Obama said at a press conference Monday.
The president-elect drew a direct connection between transitioning to new energy sources and emerging from the current economic recession.
"As we face this challenge, we can seize boundless opportunities for our people," Obama said.
The team also includes Lisa Jackson, a former head of New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection, as director of the EPA; and Nancy Sutley, a deputy mayor from Los Angles responsible for energy and environmental issues, as head of the Council on Environmental Quality.
The Energy Department: Chu will manage a budget of $24 billion and have a wide range of responsibilities. Chu will oversee the nation's nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons clean-up and will supervise research into both traditional and renewable forms of energy.
"The scientists at our national labs will have a distinguished peer at the helm," Obama said of Chu. "His appointment should send a signal to all that my administration will value science," Obama continued. "We will make decisions based on the facts, and we understand that facts demand bold action."
Chu has run the Energy Department's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory since 2004. The lab, originally a nuclear-research facility, has become one of the government's main research centers for renewable energy.
Chu has been an outspoken advocate of cleaner energy sources and has often warned of the dangers posed by global warming.
"Climate change of that scale will cause enormous resource wars over water, arable land and massive population displacements," an industry newsletter recently quoted Chu as having said this past summer. "We're not talking about 10,000 people. We're not talking about 10 million people, we're talking about hundreds of millions to billions of people being flooded out, permanently."
It's unclear what those in the energy industry think of Chu. He is said to be a cautious supporter of nuclear power and generally downbeat on coal.
Climate and energy coordinator: In this new post, Browner will direct the efforts of numerous federal agencies, including the Department of Energy, the EPA, the Transportation Department, the Interior Department, the Defense Department and the Commerce Department.
Obama's first year in office will likely see action on at least three energy and climate fronts - a stimulus bill that contains major funding for mass transit, utility upgrades, and renewable energy development; a separate energy bill that contains more funding for renewable energy and possibly tighter fuel-efficiency standards; and a bill mandating a reduction in greenhouse gasses.
Browner, a skilled Washington insider, will likely be spearheading the political effort to get these policies enacted.
A lawyer by training, Browner headed the EPA under President Clinton from 1993 to 2000. She gained a reputation for forging compromises between environmental and business interests.
Earlier in her career, Browner worked as a legislative aide to the late Sen. Lawton Chiles of Florida and as an aide to then-Sen. Al Gore.
Since 2001, Browner has worked at the Albright Group, a Washington, D.C.-based consultancy set up by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. She also sits on the board of the National Audubon Society.
The EPA: Lisa Jackson currently serves as New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine's chief of staff, a post she has held since the beginning of December. Before that she headed the state's Department of Environmental Protection.
Jackson spent 16 years as a staffer at the EPA. She spent much of that time devoted to the agency's Superfund program, cleaning up toxic waste sites.
Council on Environmental Quality: Nancy Sutley currently coordinates energy and environment issues in her job as deputy mayor in Los Angeles. She worked as energy adviser to former California Governor Gray Davis and was an EPA staffer during the Clinton administration, serving under Browner.
"You couldn't ask for a bigger change from what we had over the past eight years," said Karen Wayland, legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Wayland contrasted the level of expertise of this team and its apparent commitment to curbing greenhouse gasses with President Bush's current team, which has been criticized for editing global warming reports so they wouldn't seem as severe.
"We're thrilled to be working with [the new team] next year," she said.
Obama said moving the nation away from fossil fuels and toward cleaner energy sources is a big part of his plan to jump start the economy.
"We can spark the dynamism of our economy through a long-term investment in renewable energy," he said. "We can create millions of jobs, starting with a 21st- century economic recovery plan that puts Americans to work building wind farms, solar panels, and fuel-efficient cars."
During the campaign Obama vowed to spend $15 billion a year bringing renewable energy technologies to market - a plan he estimated would create 5 million new jobs in 10 years.
Part of that plan is thought to be enacted through a stimulus bill that he's expected to sign shortly after talking office in January.
The stimulus bill could contain measures to make the nation's building more energy efficient, tax breaks to encourage domestic renewable energy manufacturing, or money to replace the country's aging utility lines.