The Vine

Carol Browner Goes Post-czar

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Looks like Carol Browner will be the White House point person for energy and environmental issues. Quick take: It's a very green pick. When Browner was EPA head during the Clinton years, she was known as a fierce defender of federal environmental rules during a period when Newt Gingrich and the GOP were trying to dismantle them en masse, and she generally received high marks from green groups, though industry lobbyists and Republican staffers found her way too aggressive. (James Inhofe once likened her to Tokyo Rose.) Seyward has a great rundown on The Stump, though for my money this was the most encouraging part of today's news:

Obama aides say that Browner will not be called a “czar,” a term they dislike. They say she will simply focus like a laser beam on energy-reform issues, which the president-elect has named as a top priority and one of the linchpins of his economic recovery plan.

We're retiring the term "czar"? Now that's long overdue. Although I do think, as mentioned a few days ago, that Obama will need some sort of coordinating council to ensure that all the federal agencies are actually working together on climate and energy issues.

Update: Via Nexis (not online, alas), there's some good background on Browner in this short National Journal profile, circa 1996:

Early in the last Congress, when conservative Republican leaders vowed to eviscerate federal environmental programs, Browner stepped forward as the first high-level Clinton Administration official to challenge the onslaught. The White House--taking its cue from Browner and from subsequent public opinion polls--eventually scored political points by opposing the GOP assault. ...

This year, Browner is sticking her neck out again, fighting to strengthen federal air pollution controls in the face of a multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign by industry. ... During her four years as head of EPA, Browner has been a vociferous champion of federal environmental programs. Industry officials and some Republican staff members complain that Browner can be strident in pushing her position. But she's earned the respect of the often-fickle environmental community. ''When it comes to public health and environmental pollution, she's the strongest voice in the Clinton Administration,'' said Gene Karpinski, executive director of U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a Washington-based environmental organization. ...

Browner has promoted a ''new environmentalism'' philosophy, recommending that the states get more authority to shape and implement federal environmental programs. She's also tried to develop cooperative enforcement agreements with industry. But many of those programs have fallen flat, as state and industry lobbyists have pushed for greater flexibility to decide whether local companies are in compliance with federal environmental laws. Meanwhile, environmental activists have demanded more assurances that the companies will be forced to cut
their air and water pollution.

Second Update: In related news, Los Angeles's deputy mayor for environment and energy, Nancy Sutley, is going to chair the White House Council on Environmental Quality. (The CEQ, you may recall, nabbed headlines during the Bush years when its chief of staff, Philip Cooney, a former petroleum lobbyist, was caught editing government climate reports to downplay the link between greenhouse gases and global warming.)

--Bradford Plumer

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