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A Slow Striptease On The Environment

Yesterday’s transition briefing at the office of the president-elect in Washington offered a lot of teases for the environmental community. Co-chair John Podesta, speaking on behalf of the new brass, fielded specific questions on the auto industry bailout and California's EPA waiver—some proof that energy action is firmly implanted in the political debate. Here, we’ve discussed the mixed merits of the former and the necessity of the latter, but it’s worth reproducing the new administration’s funny little dance on both. Regarding California:

As you know the president elect during his campaign suggested that he wants to rely on science and I think that that’s a matter that’s under review by the transition and will move forward consistent with what he said on the campaign.

Which is to say that California and the 16 other states looking for a cue to go above and beyond current national tailpipe emissions standards should get what they want—perhaps instantly. But Podesta never confirmed that that was, in fact, the case. Later, he said that Obama and President Bush had “discussed the current situation” in Detroit, and entertained the idea that an “auto industry czar” could do some good—though made no firm commitment to such a position. And, with respect to energy policy at large, Podesta again offered a fairly boilerplate progressive stance:

I anticipate him moving very rapidly ... in terms of making the right kinds of investments that I think will serve three goals of dealing with the security challenge of our oil dependence, the environmental challenge we face ... and the economic challenge of creating new investment new jobs and a clean economy.

Yet for all of yesterday's unsatisfying generalism, there are signs that real boldness is afoot—somewhat ironically, emanating from Podesta’s Center for American Progress, which today released its transition blueprint "Change for America"—a 300,000-word omnibus plan for Obama’s first term and beyond. Mark Green, co-editor of the volume, announced some new changes, including a national energy council “with the stature of a National Security Council,” and threw support once more behind a cap-and-trade bill, stricter vehicle fuel-economy standards, and “a requirement to increase electricity generated from renewables.”

It’s a bit odd that Podesta would filibuster the press while his think tank shepherded a plan in which green innovation and technological investment—not to mention enormous structural changes to U.S. law and agency structure—figure prominently. I can see why he’d want to be circumspect just a week after the election, but surely he’s got a fresh copy of "Change" handy, and these are ideas that need to get out to the American people ASAP. I’ll try to speed-read the chapters relating specifically to energy action and post some of the smartest new ideas soon.

--Dayo Olopade