President-elect Obama will soon appoint Carol Browner to a newly created post of energy and environment policy coordinator in the White House. Browner, who served as head of EPA during the Clinton Administration, is a savvy, results-oriented leader with experience getting things done in Washington.
Browner will have to draw upon all of her skills if she is to advance Obama’s climate agenda. The president can use the bully pulpit to set the environmental vision for the country, but other White House advisers must work with cabinet secretaries and members of Congress to push through legislation. In addition to EPA and the Department of Energy, climate policy enters the purview of the departments of State, Defense, Commerce, Agriculture, Interior, Health and Human Services, and probably others. Only a talented negotiator can work through the competing interests to produce a national position on global warming. The job is even tougher when you factor in the diverse views in Congress, as well as the influence of powerful industries that would just as soon see everything stay the same.
Carol Browner is up to the task (David Roberts writes about her career path here). She served as EPA chief for eight years (from start to finish of Clinton’s presidency), the longest of any EPA administrator in agency history. Browner kept her focus on protecting our nation’s air and water and cleaning up toxic waste sites. Navigating through critics and naysayers, she delivered a record of environmental progress. She developed a reputation for forceful leadership and earned respect in the business and environmental communities. Key members of Congress trusted Browner and staff at EPA liked working for her.
Last year, TerraPass founder Tom Arnold and I went to see Browner in Washington. In a relaxed meeting at her office, she demonstrated a command of climate policy issues. She also showed a keen interest in carbon offsets and asked Tom and me to brief her on emerging offset quality standards. Browner even offered some timely advice for our business.
In picking Carol Browner for this White House post, the president-elect has made a smart choice: a person with the talent to tackle the biggest environmental challenge of our time.