Obama to make energy and environment picks

By Kennedy Maize

The Obama administration has picked Steven Chu, currently the director of the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, to be secretary of energy. The selection was quite a surprise, as Chu’s name had not surfaced in any of the rumors circulating in Washington. Indeed, he’s not well know in Washington political circles.

Chu is a respected scientist, having won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1997 for work on laser trapping of atoms. He’s also on record as concerned about global warming and how to combat climate change. He told the Washington Post in a 2007 interview, “I was following it just as a citizen and getting increasingly alarmed. Many of our best basic scientists realize that this is getting down to a crisis situation.” Chu would be the first scientist to head DOE, one of the two largest science agencies in the federal government (the other is the National Institutes of Health).

Chu comes from a well-educated Chinese family. His father emigrated to the U.S.  In 1943 to pursue advanced studies in chemical engineering at MIT. His mother followed two years later to study advanced economics, according to his Nobel biography. He was born in 1948.

Chu’s undergraduate degrees were in physics and mathematics from the University of Rochester. His Ph.D. is in physics from the University of California at Berkeley. He became head of LBL in 2004, and also holds a faculty position at Stanford University.

His nomination would be a tacit acknowledgment that energy policy will not be set at the Department of Energy (it never really has been), but at the White House. Further support for that analysis: President-elect Obama is said to be naming former Clinton administration Environmental Protection Agency administrator Carol Browner as White House energy “czar.” What that means in specific terms is unclear, but it clearly signals that the White House will be calling policy shots on energy and environment. Browner was a key aide to Vice President Al Gore, who wore the White House policy hat on energy and environment in the Clinton years.

A former Browner aide, Lisa Jackson, is set to be the EPA nominee. Most recently, she’s been chief of staff to New Jersey Democratic Gov. John Corzine, and was Garden State environmental chief under Corzine before that. In keeping with Obama’s diversity agenda, Jackson is black and grew up in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Jackson, 46, is a chemical engineer from Princeton. She was a key Browner aide during the Clinton administration. Again, the White House, not the EPA, will be calling environmental policy choices. Cabinet officers don’t make decisions in Washington; they implement them.

At the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Obama appears ready to name Nancy Sutley to head the group. Sutley, a white woman and lesbian activist, has been deputy mayor for energy and environment to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Sutley has an undergradute degree from Cornell University and a masters from Harvard’s Kennedy School.

Sutley worked as a policy analyst in Washington for a lobbying group representing non-utility electric generators in the early 1990s. In 1993, she joined the EPA as an advisor to Browner. From there, she moved to an EPA slot in California, to the administration of former Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, and then into the state Water Resources Board and the Los Angeles city government. She has a reputation as being very smart and quite pragmatic. She originally was a Hillary Clinton supporter for the Democratic presidential nomination.