Reporters wasted no time this week in their rush to speculate about who president-elect Barack Obama will tap for key environment and science positions in his administration, and about how related policies will reflect his promise of change.
The media prognostications in this realm are no different from those about who will lead every other department and agency in Washington, from the Treasury to FEMA, which is to say that they’re all very interesting and worthwhile, but haven’t moved far beyond the point of speculation. The same can be said about the coverage of how science and environmental policies will change under Obama — without much new information to work with, most articles are resigned to repeating the well-trod positions he laid out during the campaign. This isn’t to say that all this reporting is for naught, however. The sheer volume and tone of the coverage is fascinating, and suggests that science and environment is a policy area where many people expect to see the most the dramatic break from the Bush administration — greater even than in foreign policy and economic regulation.
Despite a tone that’s a tad hyperbolic, a headline and lede from the Guardian in the U.K. captures what many “green” minded people are thinking or at least hoping: “Obama victory signals rebirth of US environmental policy — President-elect Obama will shred the Bush administration’s energy policies and introduce a major climate change bill in an attempt to bring the US back into the international environment fold according to his senior advisers.”
Well… maybe. There are still many hurdles to accomplishing that goal, not least of which is the fact that the economic crisis threatens to blunt investment in renewable energy and support for cap-and-trade especially. Thankfully, after a few rosy paragraphs, the Guardian’s article accounts for that possibility, but notes European environmental organizations remain optimistic. One of the article’s best lines comes near the bottom, where a source frets that “Obama could leave the UK trailing in the race to capitalize on the huge new opportunities for environmental technologies.” Silicon Valley hopes so, reports the San Jose Mercury News, and environmentalists in the U.S. are, of course, equally jubilant at the prospect of a greenshift in American politics. Environment News Service, an online news wire, has a good roundup of almost a dozen advocates expressing their confidence in the president-elect.
More interesting than those sanguine reports, however, is a Reuters article with the headline, “Investors want proof of Obama ‘green’ change.” It quotes a variety of sources saying, among other things, that cap-and-trade is “by no means a done deal” and that they would like to see the first installment of Obama’s ten-year, $150-billion, clean-energy support plan in his first budget. Likewise, Planet Ark, an environmental organization and news service, reports that “US biofuel makers, struggling to make a profit at a time of tumbling oil and gasoline prices, look upon President-elect Barack Obama as a staunch ally for growth.”
More than his policy, however, the press seems to be focusing on those people that will help him craft it. The media speculation centers, unsurprisingly, on who will head the Environmental Protection Agency, which earned notoriously poor marks on everything from air pollution to endangered species under the Bush administration. According to posts at Bloomberg News, The Wall Street Journal, and Politico, the short list is headed by Kathleen McGinty, the former secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection; Mary Nichols of California’s Air Resources Board; Ian Bowles, of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection; Lisa Jackson, who just left the New Jersey environment commission; Carol Browner, a former EPA chief under the Clinton administration; Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., an environmental lawyer; and Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas.