Times may be a-changin’

Jan. 12, 2009
US President-elect Barrack Obama picked several environmentalists and climate-change advocates to form his administration, and that has prompted some heated comments, both pro and con.

US President-elect Barrack Obama picked several environmentalists and climate-change advocates to form his administration, and that has prompted some heated comments, both pro and con.

When he chose Ken Salazar for Interior secretary, some industry analysts described the Colorado senator and rancher as “not energy-industry friendly,” having legislated a 1-year ban on commercial oil shale leasing and calling for higher royalty rates and more onerous leasing regulation that would limit operations in the Piceance basin.

Yet some environmentalists claim Salazar is too soft on industry for their tastes, while the Denver-based Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States said, “We are confident that he views natural gas development in the Intermountain West as an important long-term element in national and regional energy supply.”

Climate change experts Steven Chu and John Holdren were chosen as, respectively, Secretary of Energy and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in a move that some said represents the new administration’s emphasis on climate change policy. But the Energy Department is more about atomic energy than anything else, and Chu shared the 1997 Nobel Prize for physics for work in cooling and trapping atoms with laser light. Up to now, the only energy secretary with any related previous experience was a former dentist who at least knew something about drilling.

Hilda Solis of California, chosen for labor secretary, won awards for her environmental work. Carol Browner, former legislative director for Al Gore—now the “Mr. Green Jeans” of the Democratic party—and former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in the Clinton Administration, was tapped as energy “czar,” a new office. Nancy Sutley, former deputy mayor of Los Angeles for Energy and Environment, will lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality, adding to the “green tint” of Obama’s Administration.

On the other hand, some environmentalists oppose former Ohio Gov. Tom Vilsack, pending secretary of agriculture, as too friendly with industrial farms. And Bill Richardson, tagged to head Commerce, was former Energy Secretary under Clinton and served on the boards of several energy companies. [Richardson since has withdrawn his name from nomination pending an investigation into charges of campaign fund irregularities, which he denies].

World keeps on working

But before getting too enthusiastic or frightened by the new administration’s prospective policies and actions, recall that no US president has ever been as effective as his supporters hoped nor as disastrous as his opponents feared. No matter what happens in Washington, DC, the rest of the country and the world keep working. Department heads come and go, but bureaucracy lasts forever. That makes the Ship of State tougher to turn around than a ULCC.

Even a massive group of young, organized, determined devotees of a political or social cause can’t carry out a peaceful “revolution” that completely changes the world. To understand that, one needs only to watch old TV footage of the anti-war and civil rights movements back in the 1960s when every gathering of people under the age of 30 at a sit-in, a rock concert, or around a campfire soon had everyone singing along with the national anthem of that decade, Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”

Many people believed the words and ideas they sang then. And there are some great changes—Obama’s historic role as the first African-American president of the US is a direct result of social and political changes that began in the 1960s.

No dramatic revolution

But the idealists of that decade didn’t end racism. Some who advocated opening election polls and schools back then now want to close US borders. People who once practiced free love now have families and worry about abortion. They may have played a part in getting US troops out of Vietnam, but they didn’t end war. They just ended the Selective Service so US parents don’t have to worry about their children being drafted to fight today’s dirty little conflicts. The all-volunteer military has shouldered that duty.

Yes, there will be change in the energy business under the Obama administration. The most immediate will be from current economic problems that persist no matter who is in office. But there will be no dramatic revolution that will eliminate demand for oil and gas. Partly because the Green Movement has no song that can fire public passion as did “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”