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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Carol Browner, President Obama’s Climate Policy Assistant, Will Leave

President Barack Obama’s Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change Assistant for Energy and Climate Change, Carol Browner, is leaving her position in the White House, the New York Times reported today.  The Obama administration entered office with ambitious goals concerning the environment, including the need to combat global warming.  During Ms. Browner’s tenure, the U. S. House of Representatives passed climate control legislation whose goal was to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.  Its central feature was establishing a cap-and-trade regime for controlling emissions.  The House bill foundered in the U. S. Senate, where significant opposition to the need for controlling emissions is found.  Even though Democrats, members of Pres. Obama’s own party, held a solid majority in the Senate, certain of them from states that produce fossil fuels sided with the opposition to prevent passage.  Their concerns included that jobs involved in production would be lost.

Under cap-and-trade, a restricted number of permits that authorize the release of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is issued to emitters of the gases.  Each permit allows the release of a fixed amount of gas.  The number issued establishes the cap.  The permits can be freely traded, once issued, among the various sources of emissions, such that efficient enterprises would have an excess number of permits, which could trade for a market value to emitters that needed extra permits.  In successive years of such a program, the number of permits is reduced, so that greenhouse gas emissions are lowered.

In the absence of a national regime for reining in the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, regional initiatives involving groups of states have embarked on this path: the Western Climate Initiative, the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative of northeastern states.

Press reports indicate that the administration has not decided whether to appoint a successor or simply to let the position and its office disappear.  Regardless, the case for bold environmental initiatives in the coming period of the Obama administration is far weaker than at the outset.  The new Chief of Staff, William Daley, has strong corporate experience.  The capture of the House of Representatives by a Republican majority, and strengthening of the Republican role in the Senate stymie the chances for strong environmental legislation in the next two years. 

Ms. Browner’s other accomplishments while in office include managing the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year, and extending the fuel efficiency of cars sold in the U. S., increasing the gas mileage by 25% over the next 5 years.

Earlier, she had been the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency for the duration of President Bill Clinton’ administration.  During her tenure she streamlined and strengthened the internal operations of the agency, defended environmental legislation from attack by Republicans after they gained control of the House of Representatives in 1994, and oversaw statutory expansion of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.   She also began EPA’s regulatory program to combat global warming, developing authority of the EPA to control greenhouse gas emissions.  This and several other initiatives were reversed under the following administration, that of President George W. Bush.

© 2011 Henry Auer

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