Confirmation hearings were held this week for President-elect Obama’s designations for EPA Administrator (Lisa Jackson) and head of the Energy Department (Steven Chu). The confirmation hearings now underway for these two designees provide an inside look at the policy choices that may soon become law once the Obama Administration takes over on Tuesday.
Steven Chu is a Nobel laureate physicist that has warned of the dire consequences of unchecked global warming, stating that the science is now clear that the current path will lead to disruptive changes in the earth’s climate system. To address climate change, Chu has indicated he will propose a variety of fundamental shifts in energy production and usage, including an increased focus on nuclear power, improved efficiency of motor vehicles, development and deployment of renewable energy sources, an effort to realize efficiency gains in the building sector, and a cap-and-trade system for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Although Chu has recognized that China and other large nations are critical to any global climate change solution, Chu has indicated that he believes the U.S. must lead so that others may follow. Despite his strong statements on global warming, however, Chu has also backed away from anti-fossil fuel statements he made during a 2007 speech, in which he characterized coal as his “worst nightmare.” In contrast, he has recognized in his confirmation hearings that coal will still have a significant role to play once controlled effectively through carbon capture and sequestration.
EPA Administrator to-be Lisa Jackson is the former head of the New Jersey Environmental Protection Department and faced some difficult questions in her confirmation hearings regarding the management of the state’s hazardous site cleanup programs. However, she has defended her record and promised swift action to address the nation’s Superfund sites. She has also promised to take further action at the national level to address perchlorate contamination originating from rocket fuels. On the issue of air quality, Jackson stated that she supports the President-elect’s preference for a new cap-and-trade program for addressing climate change, but she also stated that she will keep her mind open to the possibility of carbon taxes as well. Jackson also assured the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that she will take a fresh look at California’s waiver request for automobile fuel economy regulations and whether and how the agency may regulate greenhouse gas emissions under existing law. It is widely expected that Jackson’s EPA will grant the California waiver request and issue regulations to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Even so, she also described coal as a “vital resource,” and therefore, like Chu, appears to believe that coal must still play a role in the country’s future energy mix.
Obama’s designees are not expected to face significant opposition during the confirmation hearings and may be confirmed as early as Tuesday, shortly after Obama takes office.