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Obama picks receive high marks overall

By ROSALIE WESTENSKOW, UPI Correspondent   |   Dec. 16, 2008 at 8:14 PM   |   Comments

President-elect Barack Obama's energy team leaders received votes of approval from a number of quarters Tuesday, although not everyone's happy about their policy stances.

Obama officially announced his picks for energy leadership in the new administration at a news conference Tuesday in Chicago. The nominees include Steven Chu as secretary of energy, Nancy Sutley for chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Lisa Jackson as Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Carol Browner as assistant to the president for energy and climate change, and Heather Zichal as deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change.

While others in the past have promised tough action on climate change and energy independence without delivering, Obama emphasized his selection of leaders would turn his promise into policy.

"The team that I have assembled here today is uniquely suited to meet the great challenges of this defining moment," Obama said. "They are leading experts and accomplished managers, and they are ready to reform government and help transform our economy so that our people are more prosperous, our nation is more secure, and our planet is protected."

The incoming administration's emphasis on energy manifested itself not only in today's appointees but also in the creation of a new post at the White House called the assistant to the president for energy and climate change. Carol Browner, who served as EPA administrator from 1993 to 2001, longer than any other to fill the position, will step into the new job following Inauguration Day.

The idea of an "energy czar" to coordinate energy policy between all the branches of government was proposed by a number of public policy experts and organizations this fall, including the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a left-leaning think tank whose president, John Podesta, holds the reins for Obama's transition team, making it no surprise the idea became a reality.

Browner's prior experience at the EPA gives her the skills she'll need to bring different groups and agencies together to collaborate on energy, said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental organization.

"Browner brings many years of experience and expertise in addressing energy and the environment at state and federal levels and in the private sector," Beinecke said in a statement.

Beinecke and others have heralded the credentials of Obama's selections. Lisa Jackson, the new EPA administrator, was a commissioner at New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection, and Nancy Sutley, chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, worked as a regional administrator for the EPA in California.

In a resume matchup, though, Steven Chu takes top place. A Nobel Prize-winning physicist and the first Nobel laureate nominated to a presidential Cabinet, Chu has directed the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a leader in alternative and renewable energy technologies, since 2004.

Chu's scientific expertise will be invaluable as he takes the reins of the Department of Energy, said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass.

"Not since President Kennedy named MIT's Jerome B. Wiesner to serve as his science adviser has a presidential appointment reflected the importance of harnessing the talents and energies of our nation's most brilliant scientists and engineers to transform national policy," Markey said.

In addition to his scientific background, Chu's experience leading a national laboratory will prepare him for his next job, said current Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman.

While little criticism of the team's credentials has emerged, some dislike the nominees' general approach to solving energy problems, including Myron Ebell, director of energy and global-warming policy for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a think tank that promotes free-market solutions.

Chu and Browner "are well-qualified and capable," Ebell said. "The problem is that Ms. Browner and Dr. Chu enthusiastically support President-elect Obama's energy and global-warming policies, which would push America in the wrong direction."

Ebell and others worry the team will place heavy burdens on taxpayers in the name of clean energy.

"Forcing consumers to pay more for 'green' energy will mean less money in their pockets to spend at their local Starbucks or Wal-Mart or on vacation travel," Ebell said.

Other organizations have qualms about the nominees' positions on individual energy sources, including the environmental organization the Union of Concerned Scientists, which heartily endorses Obama's picks in general but has reservations about Chu's stance on nuclear energy.

"Steven Chu has signed onto some policy decisions in regard to building new nuclear plants and processing nuclear waste that we do not think are the way to go," Allen Nogee, clean-energy program director at UCS, told United Press International.

In August Chu signed a white paper titled "A Sustainable Energy Future: The Essential Role of Nuclear Energy," which concluded that nuclear energy "must play a significant and growing role in our nation's -- and the world's -- energy portfolio."

It's no surprise, then, that the nuclear industry gave Obama's selection of Chu a standing ovation.

"Dr. Chu recognizes the role that nuclear energy plays in reducing greenhouse gases in our electricity generation portfolio," said Marvin Fertel, president of the Nuclear Energy Institute, a pro-nuclear policy organization.

While different industries and interest groups may find flaws in the nominees, Obama has helped safeguard against individual shortcomings through his overall selection, said Joseph Stanislaw, independent senior adviser to Deloitte Services, an energy and resources industry group.

"Everyone has weaknesses and strengths," Stanislaw told UPI. "What I think is being worked on is a structure that compensates for individual weaknesses."

© 2008 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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