Obama’s uphill battle in improving the EPA

This week could be a big one for greens. Obama is likely to announce his energy and environment team very soon, which could include his nominees for Energy Secretary, Interior Secretary, and head of the Environmental Protection Agency, according to sources close to the transition team. And with the Bush Administration doing everything in its power to undermine US environmental policy (see Plenty's coverage of this issue here, here, and here), the stakes couldn’t be higher.

But some insiders say the transition won’t be easy. This week, in an interview with Public Radio International's Living on Earth, former EPA veterans said that the agency is “beset by low morale, weak enforcement, and political meddling in science” and that turning the EPA around won’t be accomplished just by switching out a few people at the top. To see just how bad it’s gotten, check out what Jeff Ruch, who runs the environmental employee advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), had to say about the agency.

From the PEER Web site:

“What I hear from employees, is they're ashamed to tell their neighbors and friends where they work because they're asked what they're doing about global warming and they have to admit they're doing nothing. They're facing in their minds the biggest environmental crisis of their lifetimes and they're not allowed to work on it. And to them it's quite distressing.”

Yikes. Luckily, Obama won’t be left wanting when it comes to getting advice on who he should nominate to help keep this sinking ship known as the EPA stay afloat. PEER, among many other enviro-orientated groups, has offered its thoughts on who should be nominated to help resuscitate the EPA. Some of PEER’s votes for top office appointments include:

  • Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. as EPA Administrator. Kennedy has led the fights against destructive mountain-top removal mining, toxic contamination of neighborhoods, and lax enforcement of pollution laws.
  • Mary Gade for the Assistant Administrator (AA) for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. Earlier this year, Gade was forced out of a top EPA position for pursuing toxic violations prosecution against Dow Chemical.
  • Bruce Buckheit as AA for Air and Radiation. Buckheit resigned in 2004 as the agency’s former Director of its air enforcement division in protest of Bush administration policies.
  • Doug Thompson as AA for Water Programs. Thompson, a biologist, previously headed agency wetlands protection and water enforcement efforts in New England until he resigned in 2005.

Other speculations as to who will be named the next EPA Administrator include: Lisa Jackson, head of the Department of Environmental Protection in New Jersey; Kathleen McGinty, former secretary of Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection; and Democratic Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius  

Obama is also considering the possibility of creating a new National Energy Council to tackle global warming and clean energy initiatives, which would be headed by a “Climate Czar” who would coordinate efforts of the numerous agencies involved. Though many enviros’ hearts are set all aflutter at the possibility of Al Gore being nominated for this position, he’s already said he won’t be taking it. Gore’s stated that he will be focusing on “[building] support for the bold changes that we have to make to solve the climate crisis.”

Gore fans shouldn’t get dismayed just yet though. According to an MSNBC article, Gore met with Obama and Vice-President elect Joe Biden just yesterday to talk about global warming and the next administration’s stimulus plan. The move clearly indicates that Gore will play some environmental role in the Obama administration, even if it doesn’t involve an awesome title like Climate Czar.

By: Jessica A. Knoblauch


Thanks for the link to my piece on Living on Earth. A quick, minor correction, however: LOE is distributed by PRI, Public Radio International, not NPR.
Also, in the interet of furthering the grind of the rumor mill...I'm heaing that: Sebelius and McGinty have both taken themselves out of the running;
Jackson is a near-lock for EPA;
We shall see.