Steven Chu, the 1997 Nobel physics laureate who now directs the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, will be President-elect Barack Obama’s energy secretary. Lisa Jackson, chief of staff for New Jersey’s governor, will head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Nancy Sutley, deputy mayor of Los Angeles, will lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Carol Browner, former head of the EPA under Bill Clinton will act as assistant to the president for energy and climate change. And Heather Zichal, who served as policy director of energy, environment, and agriculture for Obama’s presidential campaign, will take up the post of deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change.

“The team that I have assembled here today is uniquely suited to meet the great challenges of this defining moment,” said President-elect Obama at a Chicago press conference on Monday of the top officials he nominated to lead the energy and environmental sectors of his administration.

“They are leading experts and accomplished managers, and they are ready to reform government and help transform our economy so that our people are more prosperous, our nation is more secure, and our planet is protected.”

Dr. Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy

Dr. Chu is director of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and professor of physics and molecular and cellular biology at the University of California, Berkeley. Winner of the Nobel Prize for physics in 1997, Dr. Chu served on the technical staff at AT&T Bell Labs (1978–1987) and was a professor in the Physics and Applied Physics Departments at Stanford University (1987–2004).

“One of the world’s most distinguished scientists, Dr. Chu commands deep respect from his peers, deftly manages a complex governmental organization, and has a keen sense of public service,” said a press release from Obama’s transition team. “He successfully applied the techniques he developed in atomic physics to molecular biology, and since 2004, motivated by his deep interest in climate change, he has transformed the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab into a broad and innovative research program on energy technologies.”

Chu has a bachelor of science in physics from the University of Rochester and a PhD from UC-Berkeley

“The scientists at our national labs will have a distinguished peer at the helm,” Obama said at his team’s introduction on Monday. “His appointment should send a signal to all that my Administration will value science, we will make decisions based on the facts, and we understand that the facts demand bold action.”

If confirmed, Chu will be the 12th  U.S. secretary of energy (see POWER’s web exclusive, “A Dozen Secretaries of Energy” for details on the 11 others). In his comments at Monday’s Chicago press conference, Chu said that the purpose of the Energy Department is to support energy research and development, and that this “will lead to innovation in the private sector, to nurture broad-based scientific research that is essential for our future prosperity, and to provide scientific leadership to minimize the proliferation and use of nuclear weapons."

A Reuters Factbox that compiled statements made recently and in the past shows Chu has made clear that his strong suits are energy efficiency and conservation: “If I were emperor of the world, I would put the pedal to the floor on energy efficiency and conservation for the next decade,” he reportedly said.

According to a blog on the Wall Street Journal, he has also reportedly said, “Coal is my worst nightmare.”

Lisa Jackson, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator

Jackson became the head of New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in 2006. She had previously served as DEP deputy commissioner before being appointed to the post by Gov. John Corzine, and currently serves as Corzine’s chief of staff. Her past experience includes management responsibilities at the EPA’s regional office in New York for the Superfund program, the federal program regulating hazardous waste cleanup projects; for enforcement programs at both EPA and DEP; and for New Jersey’s Land Use Management Program. A professional engineer, Jackson received her master’s degree in chemical engineering from Princeton University and her undergraduate degree from Tulane University in her hometown of New Orleans.

According the Obama team’s press release, during her tenure at the NJDEP, she helped develop the northeastern states’ Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), serving as vice president of its Executive Board. She has also focused on water issues, including expanding protections for surface waters that serve as sources of drinking water and habitat for endangered species.

“Lisa also shares my commitment to restoring the EPA’s robust role in protecting our air, water and abundant natural resources so that our environment is cleaner and our communities are safer,” Obama said.

Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality

Sutley currently serves as the deputy mayor for energy and environment for the City of Los Angeles, and is also Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s appointment to the Board of Directors for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. She previously served on the California State Water Resources Control Board, as energy advisor to Governor Gray Davis and as the deputy secretary for policy and intergovernmental relations within the California Environmental Protection Agency.

During the Clinton administration, Sutley was a senior policy advisor to the regional administrator for EPA, Region 9 in San Francisco and a special assistant to the administrator at the Federal EPA in Washington, D.C. Sutley has also served as the policy director for the National Independent Energy Producers and as an industry economist for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. She received her master’s in public policy from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and an undergraduate degree from Cornell University.

“Nancy has been at the cutting edge of this effort—working as a Regional Administrator for the EPA, at the state level in Sacramento, and recently as the Deputy Mayor for Energy and the Environment in Los Angeles,” Obama said. “Now, she will bring this unique experience to Washington, and be a key player in helping to make our government more efficient, and coordinating our efforts to protect our environment at home and around the globe.”

Carol Browner, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change

Browner is principal of The Albright Group LLC, where she provides strategic counsel in the critical areas of environmental protection, climate change, and energy conservation and security. Prior to her current position, she served as administrator of the U.S. EPA, a cabinet-level position she held for eight years.

“Browner developed partnerships with business leaders, community advocates, and all levels of government. She is widely known for championing common sense, cost-effective solutions to pressing environmental and public health challenges,” said the Obama team press release. “At EPA, she brought the climate change issue to the forefront and established climate change as an important environmental issue requiring action.”

Before the EPA, Browner was secretary of the State of Florida’s Department of Environmental Regulation. She also served as legislative director for then-U.S. Senator Al Gore.

Heather Zichal, Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change

Zichal currently serves as the co-chair for the Energy and Environment Policy Team for the Obama Transition Team. Zichal served as the policy director for energy, environment and agriculture for Sen. Obama’s presidential campaign. Prior to that, she served as legislative director for Senator John Kerry, coordinating domestic and foreign policy. In 2004 she was responsible for the Kerry campaign’s energy and environment policies.

Zichal also served as legislative director for Congressman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Congressman Rush Holt (D-N.J.). During her tenure on Capitol Hill, she has been highly involved in legislative initiatives to create green jobs, tackle climate change, reduce dependence on oil, and protect natural treasures like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. She grew up in Iowa and is a graduate of Rutgers University.

Sources:, Obama transition team, Reuters, Wall Street Journal