sE searched 

Czar obsession

WASHINGTON -- President-elect Barack Obama and his aides are close to naming a slate of appointees to run the departments of Interior and Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency amid debate on whether to establish a White House-level post to coordinate policies on climate change and dependence on Middle East oil.

The wrangle over the creation of a high-level energy council or climate "czar" could determine which appointees will run the three agencies, which have the biggest impact on energy and climate policy.

It also reflects the bureaucratic challenge some of Mr. Obama's advisers see in managing the many federal agencies that have a hand in energy policy, including the Transportation Department, which sets vehicle fuel-economy standards; the Interior Department; which controls access to oil and natural gas on federal land; and the EPA, which regulates air quality.

Mr. Obama managed to please multiple factions within the Democratic Party on energy matters during the campaign by promising to invest billions in green-energy efforts and support climate-change legislation. But as he fills out his administration, some fault lines on energy policy are beginning to show.

His pick of retired Marine Gen. James Jones as national security adviser has prompted worry among some environmentalists. Gen. Jones leads an energy initiative within the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an organization that has long clashed with the group.

Various policy centers -- including one led by John Podesta, who heads the Obama transition effort -- have advocated the creation of an energy council led by a high-level adviser within the White House. Some on the transition team have expressed reservations about the idea, people familiar with the matter said.

People familiar with the selection process said Mr. Obama's top aides plan to meet in Chicago this weekend to help the president-elect choose nominees for the top energy and environmental posts, and that an announcement could come as early Tuesday. A spokesman for the Obama transition team declined to comment Friday.

Among the leading candidates to run the EPA are Lisa Jackson, a former commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection who is now chief of staff to New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine; and Mary Nichols, chairman of the California Air Resources Board, people close to the selection process said.

The EPA administrator's influence on energy policy is expected to grow both as a result of Mr. Obama's support for regulating greenhouse-gas emissions and a 2007 Supreme Court decision that found the Clean Air Act authorizes the agency to regulate such emissions if it determines they cause or contribute to air pollution that endangers public health or welfare.

Many business groups are already lobbying the EPA against taking such a step, fearing it will lead to an avalanche of costly mandates. Both Ms. Jackson and Ms. Nichols have helped lead their states' efforts to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from autos and other sources.

Other names in the mix, possibly for chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, are Howard Learner, executive director of the Illinois-based Environmental Law and Policy Center; and Jason Grumet, executive director of the Washington-based National Commission on Energy Policy. Both have a history of working closely with Mr. Obama on environmental matters.

A leading candidate for the post of Interior secretary, according to people familiar with the Obama transition team's deliberations, is Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat who has accused the Bush administration of pandering to energy companies by speeding up the permitting of oil and gas leases on federal land.

Some of Mr. Obama's advisers are pushing for former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, on the grounds that the Interior Department needs a leader with extensive experience running a large organization. The agency has been roiled recently by allegations that it employees mismanaged oil and gas royalties, and became too close to energy industry representatives.

Mr. Kitzhaber couldn't be reached for comment. He told the Associated Press this week it was "extremely doubtful" he would be chosen for the post.

People familiar with the selection process said Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm are among the leading candidates to run the Energy Department.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Sebelius said she is "focused on her job as governor" but "has not shut the door on" serving in the administration. A spokeswoman for Gov. Granholm said she is "looking forward to serving as governor with a partner in the White House."

—Laura Meckler contributed to this article.

Write to Stephen Power at and Neil King Jr. at

Unlike Carol Browner, Czar Alexander III of Russia never served as administrator of the EPA. (NEWSCOM/File)

What’s an ‘energy czar,’ anyway?

By Eoin O'Carroll | 12.11.08

It’s not official yet, but news reports say that President Clinton’s former Environmental Protection Agency chief Carol Browner has been chosen by Barack Obama to serve as his administration’s “energy czar.” What exactly does an energy czar do?

As The Wall Street Journal noted last week, the Obama administration sees a challenge in coordinating all the federal agencies that have a hand in energy policy, including the Department of Transportation, which sets fuel economy standards; the Department of the Interior, which grants permits for oil and gas drilling on federal land; the EPA, which regulates air and water quality; the Department of Commerce, which develops infrastructure to promote economic growth and sustainable development; and of course the Department of Energy.

In February 2008, the Center for American Progress, which is headed by John Podesta, who also leads Mr. Obama’s transition team, proposed appointing a National Energy Adviser, who reports directly to the president. This adviser would chair a National Energy Council made up of the heads of the relevant cabinet-level departments. In addition to coordinating energy policy among those departments, the council would be responsible for “outreach with states, localities, and the private sector, and US leadership and partnership in international efforts to reduce global emissions.”

There’s little evidence that the Founding Fathers were inspired by Slavic autocracies when they drafted the framework of our republic, but the term has a fairly long tradition in US politics. President Johnson appointed a “poverty czar” in 1964, President Reagan appointed a “drug czar” in 1982, President Clinton appointed an “terrorism czar” in 1998, and President Bush appointed a “war czar” in 2007. And as lawmakers wrangle over how much the government should intervene in the failing auto industry, there’s been talk of appointing a “car czar” to authorize loans and set benchmarks for progress.

Ms. Browner would not be the first energy czar ever. In 1973, President Nixon appointed John A. Love as the nation’s first Director of the Office of Energy Policy, a title that was quickly dubbed “energy czar” by the press. That  office morphed into the Federal Energy Administration, which eventually became the cabinet-level Department of Energy in 1977.

The online Washington mag Politico notes that Obama himself is not fond of the term “czar.”  (It’s only a matter of time before this will prompt commentators to draw parallels between him and Vladimir Lenin.)

For her part, Browner has mocked The New York Times for calling her a potential “climate czarina.” Displaying more historical acumen than the Times, she noted to Grist that the term actually means “wife of the czar.”

“I’m pretty sure my husband isn’t going to be czar of anything,” she told Grist.

<< Environmentalists send their wish list to Obama | Main


1. Mark Hartley | 12.11.08

If the the events of the last few months teach us nothing else, it’s that the government should be working like crazy to get out of the way of commerce, as opposed to trying to control or manage it. An Energy Czar is yet another role that is outside the constitutional scope of the congress, an effort not capable of being effectively implemented in Washington and without merit considering our current economic outlook. President elect Obama should be slashing positions and departments, not adding to them.

Department of Transportation - Get rid of it
EPA - Get rid of it
Department of Commerce - GEt rid of it.
Department of Energy - Get rid of it

The role of the congress is to oversee national lands and pays bills (read the constitution). Keep the Department of the Interior and get rid of the rest. Energy Czar… no way. “Climate czarina”… you’ve got to be kidding me.

2. Bob M. | 12.11.08

Czar is a contraction of “Ceasar” - a dictator/despot - it has no business in a Democracy/Republic.

3. BobM | 12.11.08

Czar is a contraction of “Caesar” - a dictator/despot - it has no business in a Democracy/Republic.

4. davido | 12.11.08

The author of this article and Browner actually lack the historical acumen that they purport to have. Czarina is a poor transliteration of “tsaritsina,” which does mean “wife of the king (if the king is the supreme ruler)” or “empress (in the sense that she rules supremely).” Calling her a czarina is only disrespectful to ignorant people who are looking to be disrespected. Somehow I doubt that Catherine the Great (as in Czarina of all the Rus) would agree that it means wife of the king.

5. Z No | 12.11.08

Not only is there little evidence that the founding fathers were influenced by slavic autocrats when they wrote the Constitution, the Constitution actually prohibits delegation of legislative authority in the manner it has been delegated to Exective agencies in our modern form of government. Executive agencies today have huge law-making powers, as is evidenced by how drastically environmental policy has changed under the Bush administration’s EPA. This level of lawmaking by the Executive is unconstitutional, the Executive branch’s responsibility is to faithfully enforce the laws of Congress, not to create its own regulatory framework and selectively enforce laws that support its own agenda.
The idea that federal agencies within the Executive Branch would be responsible for administering laws and policy is a pragmatic response to the fact that the federal government itself now far exceeds its Constitutional role. Using the Commerce Power as the source of its authority, the fed has stepped into the role that states were supposed to fill. Now executive agencies are so out of control that we need “czars” to coordinate the efforts of agencies within a single branch of government. Not only is this idea absurd, but it is unconstitutional.
But, hey, now that we are here I suppose there is no turning back. I propose the creation of a “czar czar” to coordinate the activities of all of the czars.

6. OhNo | 12.11.08

Well at least it is not All Gore, doubt the job paid enough. I am confused…this lady wants to halt climate change? Is that possible or even advisable? The climate changes all the time, naturally. Maybe she can do something about those nuisance tides, or wind changes, or day night cycles.

I am all for zero carbon, renewable energy but the idea of legislation to halt climate change is nutty as a squirrel turd.

7. Neil Finnie | 12.11.08

Instead of “Car Czar”, how about “Autocrat”.

8. celloinil | 12.11.08

If the Energy Czar will do to energy issues as most Russian Czars did to Russian peasants, we’re in deep trouble. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much how it went with the drug Czars.

9. theoat | 12.11.08

get rid of government departments when the markets are working so well these days.

you ideological ostriches talk too much black and white non-sense, evidence be damned.

8 years is enough already.

10. Sciameriken | 12.11.08

Agreed with the comments about Global Warming - People in general are always worrying about the weather - Whether its global warming in the 30’s to an unstoppable ice age in the 60-70’s to human led global warming earth destruction in the 00’s - we always think we are causing the end. Although it is still a worthy question whether we even stop global warming - the issue makes the politicians look good and what do they care since its not their jobs on the line!

11. Nancy | 12.11.08

These comments are bizarre. Departments in the Executive branch that make policy are well within constitutional domain. The government is designated to promote the general welfare. If had continued to do that in a reasonable way instead of going to war on first Clinton’s [Eoin’s note: Ahem.] in the 90s and then Iraq in 2000s we might have had some senators (who have to approve all of the department heads) and congressmen who could focus on the general welfare and taken a serious look at Casino Wall Street. By the people for the people is the most important tenet of our democracy and in the last 30 years it has been sorely neglected to lobbyists and greedy traders and corporate executives with outrageous amounts of money for the predation they indulged in for the last twenty plus years.
Who cares what they call heads of department in our ignorant press. They don’t run the government.
Browner simply supports policy that recognizes that there is a warming of climate and since no busy overlywealthy people want to recognize it and do something about it, who is left-the people, we are the government. Free market people are such hypocrits. I’m sure the majority of employees of the failing financials that just took all the peoples money into their vaults are free market people. Shouldn’t they have declined government money and said “Oh, no we’ll just wait til the market frees itself, we believe in the free market. “??? Yes, if they believe in that. But what they really believe in is their superiority to the “people”, to the government.

12. mmb | 12.11.08

ohno…what’s wrong with having nobel laurietes in the white house? particularly ones that have shown an executable amount of proficiency in foreign diplomacy and communication to the public, not to mention a certain level of familiarity and trust, even if he didn’t invent the internet?
Also: When she says halt climate change, she doesn’t mean all climate change. it is an inherrant term to discuss man’s effect on the climate. and no, the climate does not change all of the time. One of the great things about us people is that we have only been around long enought to see one set of climactic shift. it was the entrance into the last ice age and then the exit from it. and none of could read or cook our own meat back then. Our climate has been relatively stable and constant for hundreds of thousands of years.

The recent .08% drop in salinity levels in the pacific, the 3 degree raise in average global temperature, the fact that the pacific gulf stream now points directly at the northern icecap (flooding it with warm southerly air) and the overpowering compounding effects of carbon that has yet to act on changing the global temp are all things that must be addressed if you would like civilization to continue as you know it. Unless some drastic change is made (and these changes I am not personally a proponent for) we will, without dispute, have caused a new climate on this planet by the year 2050. then, hopefully, all the naysayers who are too concerned with thier businesses will stop degrading the education of the country. Ever wonder why every other nation who is not int he third world is paying attention to this?

Most likely, we’ll all still be alive for the shift. Exactly what it will be like then is the only question left. Too cold? too hot? a happy medium that’s even better than now (impossible, conditions now are perfect for life) who knows??

Read the Weather Makers by Tim Flannery. It will change your life.

13. Eugene | 12.11.08

To davido: “czarina” is a poor transliteration of I do not know what and there is no such Russian word as “tsaritsina” at all… There is “tsaritsa” with the same set of meanings as English “queen” and “tsarevna” — a daughter of a czar…

Congress To Bush: How About A Mortgage Czar

Leaders of the House and Senate will fight the ongoing subprime meltdown by demanding that President Bush appoint the weakest of government figureheads: a czar. American czars have guided failed federal policy on energy, food safety, borders, drugs, AIDS, and the Iraq war. The appointment of a mortgage czar might be the strongest signal yet that all is lost; recession, if not a crash, a near certainty.

Democrats say they will offer a plan for increased funding for foreclosure prevention, and will seek to temporarily lift limits on the portfolios of government-sponsored Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which could help the housing market if they were allowed to handle more expensive mortgages.

The White House likely will respond by reminding lawmakers that they have not yet acted on the proposals for modernizing the Federal Housing Administration that Bush announced on Aug. 31 as the centerpiece of a 10-pronged plan he called "New Steps To Help Homeowners Avoid Foreclosure."

Come on, Congress. Why ask for a czar when Bush would appoint someone like Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo - just for spite. If it's ideas that you need, put down the mace and look to the states.

Senate, House Dems call for mortgage czar [Politico]
PREVIOUSLY: Attention: The Subprime Meltdown Will Be Politicized
(Photo: Wikipedia)










Page mailing to a friend temporary disabled