Obama Stacks the Energy and Climate Deck

Jeff tries to explain how government works to readers of Science.

So far, President-elect Barack Obama's scientific appointments are heavily skewed toward one piece of the vast U.S. scientific enterprise: energy and climate research.

Researchers in those communities were generally thrilled by yesterday's news (expected to be announced tomorrow) that Obama has tapped physicist John Holdren, an international expert on energy and climate issues, to be his science adviser. The reaction was similarly positive to the pending appointment of Jane Lubchenco, a marine biologist at Oregon State University, as administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere. Both have also been major players in global environmental policy.

So have Carol Browner, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator under Bill Clinton, who Obama has named to the new position of environment and energy czar, and physics Nobelist Steven Chu, an energy guru, as secretary of the Department of Energy. Then there's Lubchenco's boss at the Commerce Department, Bill Richardson, a former Secretary of Energy under Clinton and a booster of green technology as governor of New Mexico. And don't forget Lisa Jackson, a career environmental regulator, as head of EPA, and Nancy Sutley to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Granted, some of these positions are explicitly environmental slots. But Chu's expertise is novel for an energy secretary, as is Richardson's for Commerce. Holdren, while continuing the streak of physicist-advisers within the White House, has probably paid more attention to energy issues than any of his predecessors.

Scientists aren't complaining about the embarrassment of riches, especially after the way the Bush Administration handled climate science. But for anybody outside the energy and climate realms, the transition news has been sparse. That could soon change, however: Obama is rumored to be close to naming a new director of the National Institutes of Health. Energy and climate scientists need not apply.

Posted in Policy, Climate