In announcing Colorado Senator Ken Salazar as his choice for Secretary of the Interior and Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack for Secretary of Agriculture, President-elect Barack Obama made clear he considers both Secretaries-designate to be key members of his energy and environment team.At the Nation, John Nichols criticizes the selection of Vilsack as “at best, a cautious pick,” saying “Obama could have done better, much better.” Nichols pointed to progressive food politics leaders such as writer Michael Pollan, Tom Buis, the president of the National Farmers Union, Wisconsin Secretary of Agriculture Rod Nilsestuen or North Dakota Commissioner of Agriculture Roger Johnson.
“It’s time for a new kind of leadership in Washington that’s committed to using our lands in a responsible way to benefit all our families,” President-elect Obama said. “That is the kind of leadership embodied by Ken Salazar and Tom Vilsack.”
In their remarks, Secretaries-designate Salazar and Vilsack both emphasized their commitment to focusing on energy issues.
“I look forward to working directly with President-elect Obama as an integral part of his team as we take the moon shot on energy independence,” Secretary-designate Salazar said. “That energy imperative will create jobs here in America, protect our national security, and confront the dangers of global warming.”
Secretary-designate Vilsack spoke of his commitment to “promote American leadership in response to global climate change,” and declared his intent to “place nutrition at the center of all food programs administered by the Department.”
Even more impressive would have been former North Dakota Commissioner of Agriculture Sarah Vogel, an always-ahead-of-the-curve advocate for food safety and fair trade. The same can be said for Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, a former policy analyst in Minnesota’s Department of Agriculture who co-founded and for many years led the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.
The Center for Biological Diversity calls Sen. Salazar’s record “especially weak in the arenas most important to the next Secretary of the Interior: protecting scientific integrity, combating global warming, reforming energy development and protecting endangered species.”
In contrast, the League of Conservation Voters calls both “skilled, knowledgeable leaders committed to protecting our environment and rebuilding our economy with clean, renewable energy.”
At the New Republic, Bradford Plumer delves into the scandal-ridden Department of Interior Salazar will inherit.
From the Wonk Room.
President-elect Barack Obama’s reported selection of Dr. Steven Chu as Secretary of Energy is a bold stroke to set the nation on the path to a clean energy economy. Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, is the sixth director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a Department of Energy-funded basic science research institution managed by the University of California. After moving to Berkeley Lab from Stanford University in 2004, Chu “has emerged internationally to champion science as society’s best defense against climate catastrophe.” As director, Chu has steered the direction of Berkeley Lab to addressing the climate crisis, pushing for breakthrough research in energy efficiency, solar energy, and biofuels technology.
At Berkeley Lab, Chu has won broad praise as an effective and inspirational leader. “When he was first here, he started giving talks about energy and production of energy,” Bob Jacobsen, a senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab, told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2007. “He didn’t just present a problem. He told us what we could do. It was an energizing thing to see. He’s not a manager, he’s a leader.” In an interview with the Wonk Room, David Roland-Holst, an economist at the Center for Energy, Resources and Economic Sustainability at UC Berkeley, described Chu as a “very distinguished researcher” and “an extremely effective manager of cutting edge technology initiatives.” Roland-Holst praised Chu’s work at Lawrence Berkeley, saying “he has succeeded in reconfiguring it for a new generation of sustainable technology R&D, combining world class mainstream science with the latest initiatives in renewable energy and climate adaptation.”Under Chu’s leadership, Berkeley Lab and other research institutions have founded the Energy Biosciences Institute with $500 million, ten-year grant from energy giant BP, and the Joint BioEnergy Institute with a $125 million grant from the Department of Energy. The BP deal has raised questions and protests about private corporations benefiting from public research. At the dedication of JBEI last Wednesday, Chu “recalled how the nation’s top scientists had rallied in the past to meet critical national needs, citing the development of radar and the atomic bomb during World War II”:
The reality of past threats was apparent to everyone whereas the threat of global climate change is not so immediately apparent. Nonetheless, this threat has just got to be solved. We can’t fail. The fact that we have so many brilliant people working on the problem gives me great hope.
Chu’s leadership extends beyond this nation’s boundaries. As one of the 30 members of the Copenhagen Climate Council, Chu is part of an effort to spur 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,” whose elements “must be agreed” at the Copenhagen summit in December, 2009.
Last year, Dr. Chu co-chaired a report on “the scientific consensus framework for directing global energy development” for the United Nations’ InterAcademy Council. Lighting the Way describes how developing nations can “‘leapfrog’ past the wasteful energy trajectory followed by today’s industrialized nations” by emphasizing energy efficiency and renewable energy.
It’s hard to decide if the selection of Dr. Chu is more remarkable for who he is – a Nobel laureate physicist and experienced public-sector administrator – or for who is not. Unlike previous secretaries of energy, he is neither a politician, oil man, military officer, lawyer, nor utility executive. His corporate ties are not to major industrial polluters but to advanced technology corporations like AT&T (where he began his Nobel-winning research) and Silicon Valley innovator Nvidia (where he sits on the board of directors). Chu is a man for the moment, and will be a singular addition to Obama’s Cabinet.
Saying “denial is no longer an acceptable response,” Obama indicated he will press forward with cap-and-trade legislation and that members of Congress will act as his representatives at the Poznan climate negotiations.
The second video is from a meeting of Obama’s Energy & Environment Policy Transition Team and an interview with team member Heather Zichal: