Obama makes appointments to energy, environment posts

Nick Snow
Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Dec. 16 -- Oil and gas associations emphasized natural gas's potential near-term contribution in reaching long-term goals as they responded to President-elect Barack Obama's nominations to four key energy and environment posts on Dec. 15.

But other groups' responses ranged widely, from elation to concern, after Obama announced he had nominated Steven Chu as US Energy secretary, Lisa Jackson as Environmental Protection Agency administrator, and Nancy Sutley to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Obama also nominated Carol Browner, who was EPA administrator during the administration of President Bill Clinton, to a new post as his assistant for energy and climate change. He also named Heather Zichal, currently co-chair for energy and environmental policy at the Obama transition team, as deputy assistant for energy and climate change.

"In the next few years, the choices that we make will help determine the kind of country, and world, that we will leave to our children and grandchildren," Obama said. "All of us know the problems rooted in our addiction to foreign oil: It constrains our economy, shifts wealth to hostile regimes, and leaves us dependent on unstable regions. These urgent dangers are eclipsed only by the long-term threat of climate change which, unless we act, will lead to drought and famine abroad, devastating weather patterns and terrible storms on our shores, and the disappearance of our coastline at home," he said.

"For over three decades, we've listened to a growing chorus of warnings about our energy dependence. We've heard president after president promise to chart a new course. We've heard Congress talk about energy independence, only to pull up short in the face of opposition from special interests. We've seen Washington launch policy after policy. Yet our dependence on foreign oil has only grown, even as the world's resources are disappearing," he said.

'To control our destiny'
"This time must be different. This time we cannot fail, nor be lulled into complacency simply because the price at the pump has, for now, gone down from $4/gal. To control our own destiny, America must develop new forms of energy and new ways of using it. This is not a challenge for government alone; it is a challenge for all of us," Obama said.

"The pursuit of a new energy economy requires a sustained, all-hands-on-deck effort because the foundation of our energy independence is right here, in America: in the power of wind and solar; in new crops and new technologies; in the innovation of our scientists and entrepreneurs; and the dedication and skill of our workforce. Those are the resources we must harness to move beyond our oil addiction and create a new, hybrid economy," he said.

Many industry association officials did not seem surprised that these four appointments appeared to emphasize research and development of alternative and renewable energy technologies. They are clearly more interested in Obama's choice for US Interior secretary, which he said he would announce later in the week. US Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), who has tried to delay federal oil shale leasing, was reportedly a top contender.

Obama said his selection to lead Interior would fill out his energy and environment team. "The Interior Department will play a critical role in meeting the challenges I have discussed today," he said.

Leading industry associations still responded to Obama's Dec. 15 energy and environment appointments. The American Petroleum Institute said that it looks forward to working with the officials in developing "a comprehensive, fact-based, and realistic energy policy," adding, "We remain hopeful that the president-elect's energy and environmental nominees recognize the important role oil and natural gas will play in our nation's economic recovery and we hope that they will strive to strike a fact-based balance between protecting the nation's environment and ensuring adequate supplies of energy for American consumers."

Important choices now
Independent Petroleum Association of America Pres. Barry Russell said the speed with which the national economy finds its way back to the path of prosperity and long-term job creation will depend on steps the country takes now to assure that affordable domestic energy sources remain available and accessible in the future. "Each of the talented and experienced men and women the president-elect has chosen to lead his energy team will play an important role in ensuring that future access, and it is our hope and expectation to be in a position to work with these leaders moving forward as we look for ways to create new jobs, deliver new revenue, and produce more American energy for the use and benefit of the American people," Russell said.

"Of course, the easiest and most direct way of accomplishing those goals while continuing to build a sustainable bridge to an alternative energy future is through the safe and responsible development of clean-burning natural gas and the abundant reserves of American oil that remain central to our country's near-term recovery," Russell said. "The platform on which the president-elect campaigned often acknowledged this fact, and our members look forward to building upon that awareness while continuing to deliver the affordable energy our country needs to remain in the future the first-rate nation that it is today," he said.

Others said Obama's selection of Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Jackson, leader of New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection; Sutton, deputy Los Angeles mayor for energy and environment; and Browner for the four major energy and environmental positions reflected a determination to place highly qualified people in the posts.

"These accomplished individuals bring stellar credentials to the job at hand," American Gas Association Pres. David N. Parker said. He called Chu "a brilliant individual whose lifetime of accomplishments can only help our country in these uncertain times" and said that Browner "will provide direction and oversight to ensure balance to the policy development process" in her new role.

"To meet the challenges we face as a nation, we need a green team like the one President-elect Obama has amassed. AGA is eager to work with this team to help build a secure energy future with clean, abundant, efficient fuels such as natural gas. That way, all Americans can be confident they are making responsible choices," Parker said.

Possible 'final bridge'
American Public Gas Association Pres. Bert Kalisch said the association of municipal gas distributors also looks forward to working with the Obama energy and environment team, particularly on more methane hydrate research. "Methane hydrates are an abundant untapped domestic resource of natural gas that could serve as the final bridge between fossil fuels and renewable, however it will take leadership and commitment from the Department of Energy and others to make commercialization of this resource a reality," he said.

T. Boone Pickens, who has prominently promoted construction of more wind and solar power plants to make more natural gas available as a motor fuel, said that Chu and Browner's appointments "are excellent signals that the new administration is going to be very serious about developing a national energy policy which is strong on alternative fuels, on using domestic resources and on conservation."

National Association of Manufacturers Pres. John Engler said Obama's selection of Chu, Browner, Jackson, and Sutley "reflects his continuing determination to bring highly qualified people into his administration, and his commitment to the vitally important task of bridging the nation's energy needs with the complex challenge of climate change."

The nominees are highly regarded in their fields and bring a strong public service commitment to their positions, Engler said, adding, "The challenge they face is daunting, not only in its scope, but also in the potential it holds for jobs and energy security. The manufacturers of America look forward to working with the new energy and environmental team to balance energy needs with environmental considerations."

League of Conservation Voters Pres. Gene Karpinski said, "This green dream team is principled, pragmatic, and knows how to get the job done. Joining with other Cabinet experts on energy like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Commerce Bill Richardson, this talented group will quickly establish America as the world's leader in clean energy. Under their direction, we will achieve Barack Obama's plan to harness renewable energy sources, rebuild our economy, strengthen our security and solve the challenges of global warming."

Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, agreed that the nominees are well-qualified and capable. "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," he continued.

Ebell said Obama's policies could raise US gasoline prices to "European levels of $5-6/gal" and his global warming proposals would send domestic electricity prices "through the roof."

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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