Obama’s Environmental Picks: Nothing to Get Excited About

Obama’s most recent cabinet picks–Ken Salazar and Tom Vilsack–join a long list of disappointing choices for his cabinet. As has been customary with his picks, the left has been largely silent, despite the fact that the choices are pretty bad.


Thus far, folks here at MediaMouse.org haven’t been terribly excited by president elect Obama’s cabinet picks for either domestic or foreign policy positions. We weren’t impressed by his choice of NAFTA advocate Rahm Emanuel or many of his key advisors,/a>. We’re similarly not excited about his environmental choices.

Sadly, much of the left in the United State has been relatively silent on Obama’s cabinet choices. Aside from a few critical articles–often eliciting hostile reactions from other progressives–the left (especially the liberal and progressive elements) has given Obama a free pass.

A perfect example of this is with Obama’s choices this week. There has been little more than a peep out of the major environmental groups, many of whom know that the likes of Ken Salazar and Tom Vilsack are going to be as big of friends of industry as they are of the environment. Salazar’s selection has been praised by mining and oil interests, while Vilsack’s support for industrial agriculture (epitomized by companies like Monsanto) is well-known.

Of course, part of the silence may be due to the environmental movement’s limited power. It has been in a steady decline for quite some time as grassroots organizing has been largely replaced by a professionalized class of nonprofits that work closely on legislation with the Democratic Party. While the movement has had many local successes and inspiring victories, the mainstream environmental organizations have had few victories at the national level and are hardly in a place to effectively challenge these nominees. Essentially, this means that they’ll likely grudgingly accept the choices as they did during the Clinton administration and not offer any real resistance.

Thankfully, there have been a few articles–even in the corporate media–that have critically examined Salazar and Vilsack:

Of course, once we know how bad Salazar and Vilsack are, the harder question is: what are we going to do about it?

Obama Picks Browner to be “Energy Czar”

The Obama administration has announced that Bill Clinton’s former EPA Director, Carol Browner, will be the administration’s “Energy Czar.” There has been next to no discussion of Browner’s record or the Clinton administration’s environmental record in the media coverage announcing her appointment.


On Wednesday, president elect Barack Obama announced that former EPA Director Carol Browner would be head of the new government position that will deal with environmental, energy, and climate matters. Browner was the EPA Director during the Clinton administration and has been advising president elect Obama on environmental and energy matters.

Since leaving the Clinton administration, Browner has joined The Albright Group, “a global strategy firm that works with businesses and organizations to achieve their objectives, improve their returns, and enhance relationships with key stakeholders.” There is no information on The Albright Group’s website about which businesses and organizations they have worked with. The Albright Group was founder by Madeline Albright, who served as Secretary of State in the Clinton administration. Browner has also served on the boards of the National Audubon Society, the Center for American Progress, and the Alliance for Climate Protection.

With the announcement of Browner’s appointment, some of the mainstream environmental organizations have responded with optimism. Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club said:

“One wonderful face is a familiar one: former EPA Administrator Carol Browner, who apparently will coordinate energy and climate within the White House, which is a major step forward and shows that the overall energy and climate portfolio will have strong leadership and attention from the top.”

While these organizations are generally viewed as “liberal” or “progressive” they all tend to agree with the fundamental principles of market capitalism. On December 1, Browner displayed her allegiance to the market by stating (http://wonkroom.thinkprogress.org/2008/12/10/browner-climate-opportunity/) at a forum hosted by the Center for American Progress Action Fund,

“As a former regulator — and I can cite you any number of stories — when the government steps up and says there’s a requirement, that we’re going to have to take sulfur out of diesel fuel, you’re going to have to get rid of CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) by a date certain, what the government is doing is creating a market opportunity.”

More importantly, what the mainstream media have not reported is what her track record was while head of the EPA.

For an excellent resource, we recommend Jeffrey St. Clair’s book Been Brown so Long, It Looked Like Green to Me St. Clair documents that as EPA Director, Browner oversaw some major deregulations of environmental policies such as the hollowing of the Endangered Species Act to loosening of rules on toxic chemicals, policies which opened the door for further deregulation during the Bush years.

According to St. Clair, Browner gutted the Delaney Clause in the Food and Drug Act. This clause placed a strict prohibition against detectable levels of carcinogens in processed foods. Browner also played a key role in allowing the hazardous waste incinerator in Liverpool to open despite the Clinton/Gore campaign’s promise to prevent the plant from opening. Browner also was partly responsible for the negative environmental consequences imposed by NAFTA, particularly how NAFTA regulations affected Mexico.

The book also raises critical questions about the Clinton administration’s environmental legacy. The administration was anything but “green.”