A president’s cabinet picks say a lot about his priorities. Barack Obama’s latest choices say he is determined to combat global warming and to put smart people in charge of the fight.
The president-elect has tapped a “green dream team” that includes a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and a chemical engineer whose career has been distinguished by efforts to curb greenhouse gases.
Together, Steven Chu, Obama’s choice for secretary of energy, and Lisa P. Jackson, his nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, are a one-two punch.
Chu has the passion and know-how to bring new energy technology to market, while Jackson – formerly New Jersey’s commissioner of environmental protection – is likely to seek deep reductions in carbon-based emissions.
The United States will have to do some measure of both if it is to make real progress toward mitigating the threat of climate change and reducing its dependence on foreign oil.
Chu left Stanford University four years ago to head the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where he has focused on alternative and renewable energy research.
Some observers say his views on climate change may be the most forceful ever held by a cabinet member. He favors putting a price on greenhouse emissions and calls talk about climate change being caused by something other than humans “reminiscent of the dialogue in the 1950s and ‘60s on tobacco.”
Obama himself declared last week, “The time for denial is over.” With Chu’s selection to head the Department of Energy, the president-elect adds an exclamation point.
Chu’s advocacy will run up against its practical limits in Congress, especially given his Washington outsider status.
But his technical expertise at least promises that his policies will be grounded in the art of the possible. Indeed, he is well respected in the scientific community for his judgment on public policy issues.
Likewise for Jackson, who is described as pragmatic but who also pushed New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine to adopt greener policies. Jackson helped usher in New Jersey’s plan to reduce carbon emissions 20 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.
Both Chu and Jackson, whose nominations are expected to be announced next week, would take the helm of agencies with big challenges.
The Energy Department does fund some research for innovative energy technologies, but it is largely focused on cleaning up and managing the legacy of past energy and national defense operations.
At EPA, Jackson would take over an agency that has been blatantly politicized and suberverted by the Bush administration.
Some are worried that Obama’s top energy and environmental advisors, which include a new energy czar, signal a shift to the left after moderate choices on early cabinet choices. Perhaps – but reducing dependence on fossil fuels and addressing global warming should not be a matter of right or left.
What those nominations also suggest is a return to letting science shape politics.
The nation has had enough of the opposite the last eight years.