Climate Change We Can Believe In As assistant to the president for energy and climate change, Carol Browner has zero...
Climate Change We Can Believe InAs assistant to the president for energy and climate change, Carol Browner has zero independent policy-making authority. But that doesn't mean she can't get things done. Browner, who headed the Environmental Protection Agency for eight years under President Clinton, is sort of a point person within the Obama Cabinet for all things relating to climate change and energy. She's also the one to thank for the inclusion of $90 billion of clean-energy spending in the president's stimulus package.It was the biggest energy bill ever passed, and Browner was just getting started. Also on her to-do list is setting auto-emissions standards. "A big success was the agreement in California," says Daniel J. Weiss, the director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress. "She put together a consensus deal that gave the auto companies something, the United Auto Workers something, and the state of California something. Carol Browner is a master of bringing people together who have different views."Browner, 53, has always believed that you can spur the economy through environmental legislation. She was a close partner in the development of the Waxman-Markey (cap-and-trade) bill, which attempts to prove that saving the environment and creating economic growth is not an either/or proposition. And during the early 1990s, as Florida's secretary of environmental regulation, she even hammered out a win-win deal with Mickey Mouse. When the Walt Disney Company wanted to develop on 400 acres of wetlands, Browner required that it spend $40 million to restore an 8,500-acre ranch near Orlando. At the EPA, she approved a rule aimed at reducing air toxins by 500,000 tons per year, implemented a national wetlands protection initiative, and helped beat back the Republican majority in Congress when they called for anti-environmental legislation.As we all know, the Bush administration oversaw a flurry of legislation that set back environmental causes. And while Browner has seen early success, the new administration still has its work cut out for it. "They are not going to be measured against George Bush; they are going to be measured against chemistry and physics," says Bill McKibben, an environmentalist and author. "Browner's brief now goes straight to the heart of the economy: its dependence on fossil fuels. That's tougher by an order of magnitude. But she's pretty tough, too. We'll know how well they're doing, because in this case, nature has made its bottom line clear: 350 parts per million of CO² is the most we can safely have. We're at 387 now, so we need to start heading down. It won't happen during her tenure, but this is the administration that can put us on this path, or essentially foreclose it forever."Original photo by Scott Olson/ Getty Images