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President Obama's Cabinet for Energy and Climate

What should the U.S. Department of Energy look like in the new era of carbon control, and who should run it? One proposal on the table is to form a National Energy Council.

Barack Obama photo on EnergyPriorities.com

Barack Obama mentioned the environment and energy in his acceptance speech in 2008. (Gabbec photo).

President-elect Barack Obama has stated clearly that the United States must do more to slow energy-related global warming, promote renewable energy sources, and reduce the country's dependence on fossil fuels. The necessary changes in energy policy will put major strategic and economic decisions before the Obama administration and the 111th Congress.

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We now know, at least, that Sarah Palin won't take up controlling energy policy where Dick Cheney leaves off, placing the power of the vice-presidency behind the petroleum and coal industries.

The questions in Washington DC now are what hand the White House will have in coordinating energy solutions, what role each federal agency will play, and how they might be rearranged to face the challenges ahead.

Today's DOE is not ready

The Department of Energy is a logical agency to be in charge of developing technology and directing energy policy. The current DOE lacks the capacity to absorb its share of Obama's proposed $150 billion in spending on advanced energy technologies.

Many of us in the clean energy sector know DOE as a high-visibility player. It's the home of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, with programs for building technologies and cleaner cities. It's the employer of 30,000 scientists, many of whom are working on renewable energy or smart grid answers at research facilities such as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Actually, those clean-energy activities have been a second priority for the department. DOE's primary role, and about half of its budget, are focused on atomic weapons and nuclear energy. It runs the National Nuclear Security Administration and is responsible for managing radioactive waste, nuclear incident response, nuclear research and nonproliferation.

The current DOE budget is less than $25 billion. Only 12 percent of that budget goes to promoting other energy sources and conservation.

With thousands of jobs within DOE related to nuclear in one way or another, it's easy to predict the agency will be anxious about how Obama's proposed investment is spent.


The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy was created by Congress in August, 2007, under the DOE. Modeled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), ARPA-E would have supported transformational energy technology research projects with the goal of enhancing economic and energy security.

Congress subsequently appropriated no funds for FY2008, and the Bush Administration requested no funds for ARPA-E in FY2009. Various energy and carbon bills have proposed long-term funding for ARPA-E out of carbon or oil revenues.

If ARPA-E is funded and expanded to develop new technologies, there will need to be sufficient policies to encourage their implementation. DOE and private-sector research have produced long lists of energy technologies that are not fully utilized.

National Energy Council

Pouring money into the DOE will mean elevating control, but how far will that reach up the chain of command?

Center for American Progress CEO John Podesta favors forming a National Energy Council. It would be a corollary to the National Economic Council created during the Clinton administration, where Podesta was chief of staff. Now Podesta is managing the transition for Obama.

The council would wield considerable power. Answering directly to President Obama, it could include the Secretary of State, Secretary of the Interior, and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. The council's first task would be to draft a major energy policy.

Obama's Cabinet

Whether the discussion is about a new NEC, or the conventional Cabinet structure, there is no shortage of speculation about who will be put in charge.

Among those being discussed:

  • Resources for the Future president Philip R. Sharp
  • MIT physicist Ernest J. Moniz
  • Pennsylvania governor Edward G. Rendell
  • Clinton-era EPA administrator Carol Browner
  • New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman
  • Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius
  • Congressman Jay Inslee (WA)
  • California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

Rendell has made energy a cornerstone of his governorship, successfully backing a renewable portfolio standard and promoting the creation of green jobs in a coal-producing state.

"If he helps Obama carry one of the biggest swing-state prizes in the election, he could have his pick of a number of administration jobs," wrote Rebecca Adams for the Congressional Quarterly, a month before the election.

Another NEC candidate, Podesta himself, has issued assurances that he will not join the Obama administration.

The Environmental Protection Agency also should play a significant role in climate change policy. Among the names that have surfaced:

  • Washington Governor Christine Gregoire
  • Natural Resources Defense Council executive director Peter Lehner
Another name in the buzz for EPA is Kathleen McGinty. As Rendell’s environment chief she was criticized last year for reportedly running afoul of Pennsylvania state ethics laws when her agency gave grants to the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, where her husband was a consultant. While the extent of the ethics violations is questionable, that potato might be too hot for Obama's cabinet.


President-elect Obama ran on the platform of "change" - I am all for going after a change which means non-traditional appoinments to key cabinet positions. A person that has gone beyond impressing upon many the need for "real" energy policy in the U.S. is Andrew Liveris, current CEO of Dow Chemical. Please view his speech online at http://news.dow.com/speeches/9-22-08_DEC_Final.pdf... I think all who take the time to read through will have a better understanding of how Liveris has been able to sustain and grow a Fortune 50 Company headquartered in the State of Michigan.

Reality regarding both the global and domestic energy situation is starting to set in. A recently released national poll of U.S. opinion leaders by RT Strategies indicates very strong support for coal. The findings include:

· 72% support the use of coal to generate electricity while only 22% oppose
· 69% say coal is a fuel of the future
· 82% believe we need to rely more on American coal for our energy needs
· 80% say American coal can help lead us to energy independence
· By a three-to-one margin over the next priority, the number-one energy initiative for the next president is reducing dependence on foreign oil

Coal's favorability represents a significant increase over the past year and the highest level of support since polling began almost 10 years ago.

Coal is already America's greatest energy resource and supplies half of our electricity. But we need to do more to use clean coal to deliver energy security and environmental solutions. Coal can also be converted to liquid fuels and natural gas using established technologies.

Clean coal means new, efficient coal-fueled power plants with hundreds of millions of dollars of environmental technologies, like the Prairie State Energy Campus in Southern Illinois which has a 15% lower CO2 footprint than existing plants. And clean coal can also turn the vision of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) into reality as we solve the technology and regulatory hurdles to let America capture and store CO2.

President -elect Obama's “New Energy for America” plan explicitly states that his administration will “develop and deploy clean coal technology ... as we power our economy with domestically produced and secure energy”. That fits right in with the growing public recognition that clean coal can power our future.

Energy for the future is sonofusion of di-deuterium oxide, heavy water not coal of which humans only have two hundred years. D2O is one part in 6400 of any water on the planet.

Humanity is in dire straights as to energy in turn as to economies.

Frank Boring Fitzgerald

One of the first things that needs to be done, is to take restricted national reserves out of the hands of the private sector. What they have they keep. But all new restricted areas of drilling should be controlled and maintained by the United States Department of Energy -- with all profits from domestic oil going back into the federal government, to be used to support and shore up the federal infrastructure as well as programs such as Social Security and Universal Healthcare. Oil is the lifeblood of this economy -- products can't get to market without it, workers can't get to jobs without it, and roads can't be built without it. It is time to develop federally controlled supplies that help to stabilize our country's growth and health, and not be manipulated for private profit.

Craig Gordon and Ben Smith made up their Secretary of Energy list at Politico:

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm;
Dan Reicher, ex-Clinton renewable energy chief, now at Google;
Sonal Shah, who heads Google.org's global development efforts;
Obama advisor Jason Grumet;
John Bryson, retired chair at Edison International and hybrid car advocate;
former Indiana Rep. Philip Sharp, Resources for the Future think tank.

Obama Picks Team to Guide Energy, Environment Agendas

- Carol Browner will coordinate energy policy from the White House in a new "energy czar" role.

- Lisa Jackson, an environmental-policy official and former state commissioner in New Jersey, will be EPA administrator.

- Steven Chu will be nominated as secretary of energy.

- Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Nancy Sutley named chairwoman of the president's Council on Environmental Quality.


Thank you to Walter McLeod (EcoCapital) for the summary and article pointer.

Everyone in the world knows in the future all of our renewable energy will come from hydro-electric power generated from the oceans waves.

Don't it make you mad to know the waves are scheduled to stop next week. It makes me mad to know that there are no people writing about this, "The solution to the worlds energy crisis".

I believe if you want to know the answer to these important questions you should ask a few billion people, surely we already have the answers.

Thanks for asking 20 years ago!

Good Luck!

Please do us all a favor and pass this info to someone who cares.

Cuidate, Chao

Kevin Lee