President-elect Obama has chosen his key environmental policy advisors, according to an article in the New York Times, and among those who will administer the nation’s pollution control laws and determine energy policies may be a Nobel Prize-winning physicist.
From John Broder’s article:
President-elect Barack Obama has selected his top energy and environmental advisers, including a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, presidential transition officials said Wednesday.
Collectively, they will have the task of carrying out Mr. Obama’s stated intent to curb global warming emissions drastically while fashioning a more efficient national energy system. And they will be able to work with strong allies in Congress who are interested in developing climate-change legislation, despite fierce economic headwinds that will amplify objections from manufacturers and energy producers.
The officials said Mr. Obama would name Steven Chu, the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, as his energy secretary, and Nancy Sutley, deputy mayor of Los Angeles for energy and environment, as head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Mr. Obama also appears ready to name Carol M. Browner, the E.P.A. administrator under President Bill Clinton, as the top White House official on climate and energy policy, and Lisa P. Jackson, who until recently was New Jersey’s commissioner of environmental protection, as the head of the E.P.A.
Aides cautioned that while Mr. Obama appeared to favor Ms. Browner for the new White House post, there were still issues to be resolved before the appointment can be formalized. Mr. Obama plans to name the environmental team next week in Chicago, aides said.
Chu has been a leading voice on climate change. A supporter of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, he nevertheless is a skeptic when it comes to claims that technology to resolve the world’s energy needs is available. Check out this video of a talk Chu gave at a National Clean Energy Summit last summer:
Andrew Revkin interviewed Chu in 2006 and the professor’s responses are interesting, as they certainly relate to the issues he is likely to face while running the Department of Energy:
Q. Are the intellectual forces that need to be focused on the energy-climate problem on board (top-flight physicists, for one)? If not, what needs to be done?
A. There is a growing awareness that the danger of substantial, disruptive climate change is of a high enough probability that more and more scientists are beginning to ask themselves and each other what they can do to contribute to a solution.
Q. Has the scale of what needs to be done been adequately expressed by folks in the climate discourse? If not, how could this be done and be taken seriously?
A. I am not sure most of the public realizes that the greenhouse gases that we are emitting today ha[ve] 100+ year consequences.
Q. I’ve been talking with others about the “valley of death” — the gap between near-term R and D money from venture capital and short-term-oriented government programs and long-term R and D money for “safe” perennials like fusion. What research needs lie in the middle that are not getting addressed? (This presumes you agree on the “valley.” If you disagree, I would love to know your view.) How can these needs get targeted given hurdles out there (earmarking, thirst for short term payoff, aversion to failure)?
A. I was part of the report “Rising Above the Gathering Storm.” In that report we recommended a ARPA-E [Advanced Research Project Agency – Energy; akin to the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency] as a potential solution to this problem. Ultimately, it will depend on the quality of the people who will manage any new program and the discipline of Congress NOT to earmark.
Q. What is your vote for the best role of government in shaping long-term efforts? (Is FutureGen the right kind of model? If not, what is..? is N.I.H. a good model? Is the Energy Department the wrong venue?) A lot of economists say industry is just not able to focus that far forward in R and D. Do you agree?
A. We need to alter the playing field with tax and fiscal polices (such as a carbon cap and trade with a minimum trading value so that companies could plan for sensible, long-term investments). This has to be done in order to account for the so-called “externalities” – real costs that are not yet included in the price of various forms of energy. Developed countries have made this step with air and water pollution by enacting outright regulations and installing a cap and trade system.
Once industry is assured that the bottom will not fall out (such as price of oil, gas, or the trading value of avoided carbon, etc., suddenly plummeting) long-term investments will be made. The wind industry in Denmark and Germany proceeded in this way. Off the top of my head, $70/avoided ton would work wonders in spurring long-term investments and innovation.