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Many Names Offered as Obama's Possible 'Climate Czar'

Al Gore Climate Czar

Rumors that President-elect Barack Obama may create an Energy Security Council similar to the National Security Council have spawned wide speculation about whom Obama would appoint to be a "climate czar" in charge of the new advisory group.

According to a report from, the Obama transition team has been studying a white paper written by team leader and former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta on how an Energy Security Council would look and how it would work with other agencies, including the Department of Energy, the Department of the Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency.

A climate czar would oversee the administration's policies on energy and climate-change, and possibly monitor interactions on the issues among the other agencies and departments. 

Among the many names being bandied about for a "climate czar" are two heavy hitters: California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican who actively supports cutting greenhouse gas emissions and promotes renewable energy projects in his state; and former vice president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore, whose "An Inconvenient Truth" has become the bible of global warming activists.

Nancy Floyd, founder and managing director of Nth Power, a green-tech venture capital firm, has been mentioned as another candidate. Floyd spoke at the Democratic National Convention in August about renewable energy investments and is an adviser to the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Lab.
Dan Reicher, Google's director of climate change and energy initiatives, has also been mentioned as a candidate for climate czar, as well as for energy secretary. Reicher, an advocate of plug-in electric vehicles, was assistant energy secretary during the Clinton administration. Obama has said he wants to put 1 million American-made plug-in hybrid cars on the road that can get up to 150 miles per gallon.

Also mentioned for the energy secretary position are Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who wants to create an $850 million Energy Independence Fund in his state, cut greenhouse gas emissions and invest in clean energy; and Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

William Antholis, managing director of the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, said the time has come for a climate czar, but that person's success will depend on several factors.
"Who leads the effort?" Antholis asked. "It's really important to have somebody of public standing but who also understands how the process works both inside and outside the White House. How well is the office staffed?"
Even with the right person in place, he said, having a strong staff with clear priorities and lines of authority will be essential to a climate czar's effectiveness. 
For the past 40 years, he said, the Department of Energy has focused on generating fossil fuels and addressing the safety of civilian nuclear reactors and international nuclear materials. 

"If addressing fossil fuels and climate change as a long-term problem is going to be central to our energy policy, you're going to have to reorganize the Energy Department to do that," Antholis said.
If Obama does create a National Energy Council, whoever he chooses to lead it will face an ambitious set of initiatives in his energy plan, but Antholis says many of its goals are realistic.
"He is really aware of where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, on these issues," he said of Obama. "If anything, the concern is from environmentalists that he won't go far enough as opposed to will he go too far."

In his Nov. 4 speech in Chicago after winning the presidential election, Obama said that energy, climate change and the economy are problems that need to be addressed together, and polls indicate that Americans agree.

A Nov. 11 poll by Democratic pollster Douglas E. Schoen that sought to measure American sentiment toward climate change policy during the economic crisis found that a majority of Americans think that creating green jobs could be a solution to both.
"A lot of arguments say you don't want to be messing around with climate change policy when you have a difficult economic context, but the numbers came back pretty strong in terms of support for what the president-elect is talking about doing," said Steve Cochran, national climate director at the Environmental Defense Fund. 

"There aren't many policies where you get a triple bang for your buck," he said. "The public really does see that there is a real opportunity to invest in clean energy and in the process create jobs."

Creating green energy would require the manufacture, transport and management of countless new products and resources, from windmill parts to solar panels, which would create jobs in many industries.

"Those are hard-headed, hard-hatted jobs that come with the new energy economy that people are talking about, and it's not always thought of that way," Cochran said.