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One Czar to Solve Them All

Should Obama bring a climate czar to the Cabinet? Hope and history-making aside, Barack Obama's speech in Chicago on Tuesday night laid out the president-elect's top priorities. Climate change made the short list. "For even as we celebrate tonight," he told a riveted nation, "we know the challenges..


Should Obama bring a climate czar to the Cabinet?

Hope and history-making aside, Barack Obama's speech in Chicago on Tuesday night laid out the president-elect's top priorities. Climate change made the short list."For even as we celebrate tonight," he told a riveted nation, "we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime-two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century."It's no coincidence that he spoke of these three challenges. Obama gets that the solutions to our economic problems should be the same as those for our energy independence, as well as those to solve the climate crisis. Or, as Grist's David Roberts describes it: "Our energy security is our environmental security is our economic security."Taking barely a moment to breathe, the press and the pundits got busy, speculating who all will fill Obama's executive staff and Cabinet. Before long, calls for a Cabinet-level "climate czar" rang out from a handful of environmental advocates. Roberts notes that, "Looking through the list of U.S. cabinet positions, it strikes me that responsibility for climate change-related policy is spread wide and thin: Secretary of State (international treaties), Defense, Interior, Agriculture, HUD, Transportation, and Energy." Then there's the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which conventional wisdom charges with the responsibility of implementing any binding "cap-and-trade" carbon emissions regulation that seems imminent in the near term.A climate czar-I'd personally prefer the less catchy "climate and energy czar"-could coordinate efforts across all these various and sundry departments and agencies. The job could be based in the White House, involved in Cabinet meetings, and focused acutely on reducing our national greenhouse gas emissions by implementing clean energy, energy efficiency, infrastructure, and transportation programs that'd also serve to kick-start our ailing economy. The climate czar could sit atop a newly formed council on climate and energy, modeled after the National Security Council. (There is a standing White House Council on Environmental Quality, however, it's weakly staffed and poorly funded and essentially powerless to take any legitimate action on climate change.)There's been no suggestion from the famously tight-lipped Obama camp that such a position is forthcoming, but that hasn't stopped anyone from floating names of possible candidate. Even before Obama's election emboldened rumors of an impending climate czar, predictable nominations of Al Gore sprang up-though there's little to suggest that he'd want to go back to Washington. Jonathan Hiske, also writing for Grist, suggested New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, and Terry Tamminen, the former head of the California EPA and a recent energy, environment, and climate advisor to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Others that could potentially fill this still-phantom position are mentioned as possible EPA-administrators-a slot that will likely be filled within a couple of weeks. Those in the speculation pool include: Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius; Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and a former senior EPA official under Clinton; or Jonathan Lash, president of the World Resources Institute.It's true that creating a new position-and the requisite shuffling of parts of the relevant agencies and departments into an appropriate council to be run by this climate czar-would take some time. But if Obama's serious about his claim that the foundation for an economic stimulus is in infrastructure for a clean energy economy, he should make the bold, symbolic, and pragmatic move. If the economy, energy, and the environment are so tightly linked, we can't spread the work out. Appoint a climate czar to run the show.
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