Climate crusader

"We're very reasonable people," says White House energy czar Carol Browner. The business world hopes she's right.

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By Julie Schlosser, associate editor

Browner is working to coordinate Obama's ambitious energy and environmental goals.
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(Fortune Magazine) -- As head of the EPA under Bill Clinton, Carol Browner earned a reputation as someone unafraid of standing up to big business. The politically savvy Browner, 54, is now tasked with streamlining and coordinating President Obama's environmental agenda in the newly created position of assistant to the President for energy and climate change. A protege of Al Gore, Browner, who is also a member of Obama's auto task force, finds herself at the intersection of energy policy, cap-and-trade legislation, and the battle to save Detroit.

Asia is ahead of the U.S. when it comes to creating a competitive electric car industry. Can the U.S. catch up? Absolutely. Earlier this year I attended the Washington auto show and saw just how much of an investment our domestic manufacturers are putting into advanced-technology vehicles. From new, more efficient hybrids to better engines, Detroit is embracing the technologies that will keep our companies competitive.

What exactly is the Obama administration doing? We're committed to being a strong partner in that endeavor. That means providing funds for retooling manufacturing plants to build the cars and trucks of the future. It means a robust federal budget for research and development in technologies like plug-in hybrids, as the President has proposed. In addition to tax credits for the purchase of cleaner, more efficient cars, the Recovery and Reinvestment Act includes over $2 billion for battery technology.

Do we need a gas tax to make fuel-efficient cars more attractive to consumers and more enticing for manufacturers to build? No. We never said we were for a gas tax. We have not articulated any desire for a gas tax. We think we can achieve significant environmental benefits with the existing laws, and by coordinating them in a smart and thoughtful way.

Is it realistic to believe that in this political and economic environment you can get climate-change legislation passed? The President has been very clear. He said in a joint session of Congress, "Send me a bill." The President included revenues from a cap on carbon pollution in his budget, because he wanted to send a very strong signal - which it did - to the Hill that he is very, very serious about having a new program in place.

The President has said he wants a cap-and-trade system that auctions all its credits. Many CEOs don't think that's feasible. The President said during the campaign that he thought 100% of the carbon credits should be auctioned to those businesses covered under the bill. I think the Hill is looking at a variety of other options in terms of what you do during a transition. As the President has said, we're very flexible. We're very reasonable people.

Is the recession going to be the biggest obstacle to pushing a comprehensive energy package? Some people say that you shouldn't pass particular parts of energy legislation during the downturn. I'd simply point to major companies who are saying, "Please, now is exactly the time. Don't wait until we are halfway or two-thirds of the way through the recovery."

We need to make the domestic investment, whether it be battery technology, wind farms, or something that we can't even imagine today. To delay three or four years is simply to miss the opportunities to have more green jobs and more energy solutions. We need to know the rules of the road for today so that we can plan for tomorrow.  To top of page

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