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The current Energy secretary, Samuel W. Bodman, is a former chemical-company CEO and financial-services executive. The next one is likely to be a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who runs a national laboratory dedicated to renewable energy, next-generation biofuels and other technological solutions to global warming. If there's a clearer signal of the radical course correction we can expect under President Obama, we've yet to see it.
Seldom have Washington's corridors of power been as well positioned for a change of direction as they will be next year on environmental issues. The chairs of the committees that oversee energy and environmental matters in both houses of Congress are California Democrats who would bleed green if you cut them, and the Cabinet choices Obama is expected to announce this week are to President Bush's appointees what gardeners are to gophers.
Obama's choice for Energy secretary is Steven Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Though the job mostly entails overseeing nuclear waste and weapons, he also will direct government research into alternative energy and be in charge of upgrading the electricity grid to handle new power sources. He will bring scientific rigor to a position that has lacked it for the last eight years.
For head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Obama has reportedly picked Lisa Jackson, who spent 16 years at the EPA as an enforcement officer before becoming head of New Jersey's chief environmental agency. Her biggest job will be cleaning up the mess left behind by her predecessor, Stephen L. Johnson, a career EPA bureaucrat whose primary qualification was that he was willing to obey every directive handed down from his superiors, no matter how severely they undermined his agency's mission. Jackson will have her hands full trying to undo the damage done to wildlife protections and pollution standards by the most environmentally irresponsible administration since the EPA's founding in 1970. If confirmed, she should start by granting California the waiver to regulate tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases that was denied for political reasons by Johnson.
Also said to be on tap: Carol Browner, President Clinton's EPA chief, in an as-yet-undefined position coordinating climate-change policies, and Nancy Sutley, a Los Angeles deputy mayor overseeing energy and environmental issues, as head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Together, they'll aim to head off the worst effects of global warming, a vast challenge that will be complicated by the nation's economic woes. Yet the political support for the needed changes is enormous -- if they can't get it done, it may never happen.