The past eight years have been marked by alternating feckless inactivity and outright hostility toward the environment. The Bush administration was one in which an agency charged with managing and conserving federally owned land had no qualms about getting in bed — at times quite literally — with energy companies. (See number 5 on our list.)
But, at long last, the good guys are back in charge. And it still sometimes seems too good to be true. Imagine! Intelligent and competent public servants who will take their jobs seriously, and who will use science and common sense to help protect the long-term health of the planet and all who live on it.
On Monday, President-elect Barack Obama announced the officials he's tapped to begin reversing the environmental damage wrought by the Bushies. According to several environmental groups, the picks are inspired.
"Overall, we're delighted — we're thinking of them as a 'green dream team,' " says Tiernan Sittenfeld, legislative director for the League of Conservation Voters.
"It's like a new day," says Michael Oko, federal media director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "It's really a breath of fresh air — pardon the pun — to have some of these appointments. Obama is really showing that he's looking to change direction."
Few cabinet positions demonstrate that more than energy secretary pick STEVEN CHU, a Nobel Prize–wining physics professor at UC Berkeley, who's long advocated — some might say agitated for — alternative energies, such as solar power and biofuels, to be brought to the fore to combat global warming.
"Having a scientist heading up the Department of Energy is very important," says Sittenfeld, "since the Bush administration has clearly not respected the science and made it too much about the politics."
"He's very impressive as a scientist and a researcher," says Jack Clarke, director of public policy and government relations at the Massachusetts Audubon Society. "And [as for] pushing government to look at alternative sources of energy, we're going to need that aggressive nature at Energy."
Similarly, Obama's pick to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), LISA JACKSON — who previously was commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, where she worked (not entirely without controversy) to scrub that state clean of its infamous hazardous waste — is "an excellent choice," says Oko. "She's got a lot of experience, and has the ability to push and take real actions on the issues that are important to the environmental community."
Even better, "she'll certainly be working with a good team of folks," says Clarke. That team will include Clinton-era EPA chief CAROL BROWNER, who's been picked to serve as White House coordinator of energy, climate, and environmental policy — a newly created position that's being referred to as "energy czar."
"Just truly a perfect choice," Sittenfeld calls her. "She's ideally suited for the job, given her range of experiences, and is really a terrific choice to make sure that Obama's vision of bringing about a clean-energy future and reducing global warming becomes a reality."