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Energy under President Obama

Now that Barack Obama has been elected, Washington DC is involved of its two favourite activities: scrambling for the hard-to-get tickets to the 20 January inauguration, and speculating wildly on who might get positions of power in the new administration.

Nature has some of its own speculation available in a news story in this week’s issue. Even with many competing priorities, energy policy looks likely to be of interest early under President Obama.

The administration of George W. Bush was famous for establishing energy policy early too, as lobbyists and industry representatives visited Vice-President Dick Cheney, the former CEO of Halliburton. Democrats are now gleefully thinking about how they might get back at the Republicans. Whether they do it any better remains to be seen; Congressional Democrats are currently embroiled in some nasty infighting over who gets to be chair of the House energy and commerce committee. Rep. Henry Waxman of California has launched an aggressive (and by some accounts, likely to be successful) bid to grab control from John Dingell of Michigan, who represents the heartland of the US automotive industry and is far more likely to be able to convince automakers to get on board with any climate legislation that might be forthcoming from the next Congress.

Still, the Obama transition team is trying to get things moving along. Notable is the fact that the co-chair of the team is John Podesta, Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff. Podesta is also founder of the liberal think tank the Center for American Progress, which has put out a number of policy documents on energy over the past few years. This week, in fact, it published a manifesto of sorts, which among other things calls for the creation of a National Energy Council, headed by an energy czar. The idea is to coordinate all the policymaking that often disintegrates into turf battles (see above…) among agencies such as the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, and the Council on Environmental Quality.

Speculation is running amok about who might serve as an overarching energy or climate czar. Rumors of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the California governor, are probably ill-founded, insiders say – and the same for rumors that put lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr., of the Kennedy clan, as a serious contender for head of the EPA. But we know a bit about who is advising the transition team; key players include Dan Kammen, an energy expert at the University of California, Berkeley, and Jason Grumet, director of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington DC (see my colleague Jeff Tollefson’s note here on Grumet). John Holdren, former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is also declining interview requests – a sure sign of involvement. And some have speculated that Ernie Moniz, energy expert at MIT, might be interested in returning to government in some capacity, perhaps as secretary of energy.

Might Podesta himself want to serve as energy czar? He’s already emailed members of his think tank saying he does not intend to hold a permanent role in the Obama administration. But if it’s more speculation you’re after, try these lists from the Associated Press , Grist, and the Washington Post. Who knows, maybe one of these names will actually turn out to be correct.


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