|Former Vice President Al Gore watches President-elect Barack Obama speak in Chicago, on Dec 9, 2008
by Zulima Palacio
President-elect Barack Obama has unveiled what is being called his "green team", the Cabinet secretaries and top officials that will deal with environmental and energy policies. While environmental groups have praised the choices, they also say the incoming administration will need to make major policy changes to meet the challenges of global warming and other environmental problems.
Obama's top priorities
"To create millions of new green jobs, to free our nation from its dependence on oil and help preserve this planet for our children," said President-elect Barack Obama as he outlined his top priorities for the environment and energy policy. "In the end that's not only the responsibility of all Americans, it's our obligation as stewards of God's earth."
To accomplish this, Mr. Obama has said the development of alternative energy is key, and is inextricably linked to the future of the U.S. economy, national security and curbing global warming.
Meeting with Nobel Peace Laureate and former Vice President Al Gore recently, Mr. Obama pledged to tackle this issue. "The time for delay is over; the time for denial is over," he said. "We all believe what the scientists have been telling us for years now, that this is a matter of urgency and national security, and it has to be dealt with in a serious way. That's what I intend my administration to do."
Mr. Obama choices to implement his policies are being called the "Green Dream Team." They include Carol Browner as White House energy czar, Steven Chu a Nobel Laureate for physics as head of the Energy Department, and Lisa Jackson as director of the Environmental Protection Agency. On Wednesday, Mr. Obama picked Colorado Senator Ken Salazar, who has opposed drilling in Alaska's National Wildlife Refuge, as his Interior Secretary.
"These people are savvy, experienced, they're principled but they're pragmatic," said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters - an environmental advocacy group. "They've gotten the job done before and we think they can get the job done here as well."
The centerpiece of Mr. Obama's plan is to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, as well as to create five million new jobs. To do this, he plans to invest $150 billion over the next 10 years to build a new clean energy economy that relies on wind, solar and geothermal energy.
"Green energy is cost effective in many circumstances, if you look at it with a broad lens," said Chris Flavin, the president of the Worldwatch Institute - an environmental think tank in Washington. "To take one example, wind power if fully competitive with new natural gas-fired power plants even without any specific subsidies."
Flavin says this is a unique moment to implement such a policy, because Mr. Obama's environmental objectives are intertwined with the economic recovery program.
"We are at a turning point for the environmental issues, where environmental progress is seen as being really intertwined with the economy," Flavin said. "So it is less about pollution control, is more about creating new industries, whether is it be renewable, energy efficiency, new transportation systems, new green buildings."
President-elect Obama also wants auto companies to put one million plug-in hybrid cars that can get up to 150 miles per gallon on the road by 2015.
General Motors unveiled the Chevrolet Volt, the company's first plug-in hybrid vehicle, at the 2007 Auto Show in Detroit But Katery Callahan, who heads the non-profit Alliance to Save Energy, says reaching this target may be difficult.
"It takes some time for products to get into the market. So do I think that we can get a million plug in hybrid electric cars? Yes. Do I think that we are going to get that many on the road in 10 years? I think that's a stretch," Callahan said.
Environmental groups recognize Mr. Obama will face urgent priorities, including the economy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, when he takes office. Yet these groups have high expectations. They recently released a nearly 400 page report containing hundreds of environmental initiatives - many of which they hope will be implemented by the Obama administration.