Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture draws both half-hearted praise and criticism from environmentalists

Environmentalists all hoped that Obama’s cabinet picks would form a mean, green eco-dream team. And some recent appointments elicited high praise from greenies: Steven Chu as energy secretary, Carol Browner as climate and energy adviser (or “czar”), and Nancy Sutley as chair of the Council on Environmental Quality were welcomed with open arms. More recent choices, however, have encountered far more mixed reactions.

For one, Lisa Jackson as head of the EPA. While many enviros think she’s a tough gal who can whip the flailing agency back into shape, others criticize the way she handled New Jersey’s toxic waste. Many greens believe Ken Salazar, Obama’s pick for Secretary of the Interior, is too centrist in his views—though Salazar acknowledges the need for renewables, he also advocates for continued coal, oil, and natural gas development. And the most recent pick to receive mediocre—or in some cases, downright scathing—opinions from enviros is Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture.

From the New York Times:

Mr. Vilsack, like the president-elect, is a strong advocate of combating global warming and developing alternative sources of energy. He was the co-chairman of a task force last year on climate change for the Council on Foreign Relations, which recommended phasing out subsidies for mature biofuels, including corn-based ethanol, as well as reducing tariffs on imported biofuels like Brazilian sugar ethanol.

While all that may sound well and good, Vilsack’s other interests have drawn criticism: Being from Iowa, Vilsack’s a proponent of huge agribusiness, corn-based ethanol, and GMO crops.   

One of Vilsack’s most outspoken opponents is local food advocate and author Michael Pollan, who thinks everyday consumers and sustainable food systems should be the Secretary of Agriculture’s focus, rather than farmers and energy.

From NPR:

Pollan…said Obama will not make progress on climate change or energy independence—or health care, for that matter—unless America’s food system is included in that plan.


“The food system is responsible for about a third of greenhouse gases,” Pollan told NPR’s Renee Montagne. “It is responsible for the catastrophic American diet that is leading 50 percent of us to suffer from chronic disease, and that drives up health care costs.”


He said, it’s difficult not to see Vilsack’s selection as “agribusiness as usual.”


But for greenies out there who disapprove of Obama’s picks—whether it be Jackson, Salazar, Vilsack, or anyone else that has or may come along—remember this: Obama will still lead the nation. For lack of a better term, he’s “The Decider.” While the president-elect may support corn-based ethanol production, he also embraces many other green ideals esteemed by environmentalists from the very beginning. Perhaps he selected the Cabinet members he did for their collective experience and know-how, not their individual views. Under Obama’s leadership, environmentalists can find hope that America is headed for a brighter, greener future.    


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Browner's selection is a serious fax pas for Mr. Obama.

From Carol Browner's Wikipedia page:

"During Browner's tenure, there were many reports from African American employees of racism directed at them from a network of "good old boys" who dominated the agency's middle management layers.[16] The most known of these involved policy specialist Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, who in 1997 filed suit against the agency; in 2000 the EPA was found guilty of discrimination against her and she was awarded $300,000.[16][17] Coleman-Adebayo said that Browner allowed the problems to persist rather than trying to clean them up: "She wasn't at all sympathetic to complaints about civil rights abuses. We were treated like Negroes, to use a polite term. We were put in our place."[16] In an October 2000 Congressional hearing on the matter,[18] Browner appeared near tears as she said minorities had tripled in the agency's senior ranks during her time as administrator, but she was unable to explain why the culprits in Coleman-Adebayo's case had not been dismissed and in some cases had been promoted.[16] A month earlier, Browner had asked for the Office of the Inspector General to linvestigate a statement by an African American environmental specialist that she had been ordered to clean a toilet in 1993 in advance of Browner's arrival at an EPA event.[19] This followed a rally in which dozens of EPA employees protested what they saw as rampant bias at the agency.[19] Congressional dissatisfaction with the EPA situation and its treatment of Coleman-Adebayo led to passage of the No-FEAR Act in 2002, which discourages federal managers and supervisors from engaging in unlawful discrimination and retaliation.[17]"

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