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Environmental Shift Needed Early From Obama Administration

This story was written by Virginia Zantow, Iowa State Daily

President-elect Barack Obama, D-Ill., may face the issues of climate change and alternative energy in the coming years, and some are wondering what he will do with his Cabinet to address them.

Robert Brown, director of the Iowa Farm Bureau at the Bioeconomy Institute at Iowa State University, said a comprehensive energy strategy for the United States is needed from Obamas administration.

Brown, also a distinguished professor with the Center for Sustainable Environmental Technology, said there have been several programs aimed at energy issues in the United States, but no comprehensive strategy.

He said the Obama administration will have to know how to reduce reliance on imported petroleum, reduce the environmental impact of energy use and find a way to obtain food and fuel from solar energy. Brown referred to agriculture as solar energy, since crops obtain their energy from the sun.

I think whats going to be important is that we recognize that many renewable energy technologies are not as competitive with fossil fuels, Brown said.

In other words, he said, there will be a transitional period from this countrys reliance on petroleum to a new energy system, because of new fuels inability to compete fully with petroleum. Obamas administration will have to be aware of that.

We need to come up with a strategy that allows our economy to grow, but at the same time, allows us to transition to these new technologies, Brown said.

One name that has risen amid speculation of Obamas choice of a high-level official in the environmental or energy sector is Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico.

Richardson was the secretary of energy under Clinton and knows a lot about energy, said Steffen Schmidt, university professor of political science.

While the secretary of energy will certainly face environmental questions, there has not historically been a position in the presidents Cabinet for an official who presides over a broad array of environmental concerns.

However, Schmidt said, there has been a lot of talk about a high-level environmental official who will coordinate multiple governmental efforts in the Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Transportation and even the Department of Defense.

Schmidt said he would like to see former vice president Al Gore, who has won a Nobel Prize for his work with climate change, as part of Obamas administration.

Obamas environmental administration will have to work with the state department on international global treaties and councils regarding climate change, Schmidt said.

Gore would be a good representative of this country in these global initiative ss, he said.

Obama knows that Americans are concerned about the environment, Schmidt said. A lot of people who voted for him, especially younger voters, voted for him because they think that hell make some major changes, perhaps, in some of these environmental programs.

Schmidt said he doubts Obama will address the environment first when he is inaugurated because the economy is a pressing concern for the country.

Still, Schmidt said he thinks Obama can start moving in that direction and organizing his administration so it can soon take major steps in the environmental sector.

He said the environmental concerns of global warming and pollution are more and more urgent as China, India and other countries become more and more industrialized. Obama will have to address the environment and work with other countries on this issue even if he does not want to, Schmidt said.

Also, the federal gvernment will have to do something to move the transportation industry forward in becoming cleaner, Schmidt said.

The transportation sector has been struggling in this economy, and there has been talk of a large amount of governmental assistance, he said.

If this assistance materializes, Schmidt said the government could attach some requirements to the use of that money so automobile companies can develop cleaner transportation.

Schmidt also suggested that the Department of Transportation will probably be a big player in this countrys movement toward a more sustainable infrastructure and way of life. Mass transportation could become a serious item of conversation in the coming years, he said.

President Bush has not prioritized environmental issues, Schmidt said, and he also chose people for his Cabinet based primarily on their political leanings, rather than their areas of expertise.

The American people were really upset with that idea, and rejected that, so I think Obama will appoint people who have some knowledge, Schmidt said.

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