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What Obama's Security Team Means For Energy

Over at The Washington Independent, Spencer Ackerman wonders why Barack Obama didn't name an energy secretary as part of his newly designated security team today, and it's a fair question. After all, Obama himself has underscored the connection between energy security and national security before (alas, that linked speech also includes some wrongheaded pandering to the Governor's Ethanol Coalition), and he touched on this theme again in his remarks today. Even the Pentagon now concedes that a warming planet will face new security threats, as increased drought and flooding and the spread of disease will displace millions and lead to more frequent conflicts over resources. Now, Obama grasps all this, and it's likely we're just bored reporters over-interpreting the transitional tea-leaves, but throwing an energy secretary into the mix today would have been a welcome gesture.

Meanwhile, Obama's new national security adviser, retired Gen. James Jones, is apparently no stranger to energy wonkery—though no one would mistake him for an environmentalist. Far from it: Since leaving the military, he's been running the Institute for 21st Century Energy, a group affiliated with the Chamber of Commerce that's been educating the public on the need for, well, industry-friendly energy policies. (If greens need any more reason to squirm, Jones also sits on the board of Chevron.) His institute recently published a series of energy recommendations for the next administration that specifically downplayed the need to move quickly on climate legislation, and instead emphasized boosting domestic supplies of oil and gas, promoting energy efficiency, and subsidizing technologies like carbon capture for coal plants.

Keith Johnson reads the Jones pick as a signal that Obama may be edging away from his "green revolution" mindset. I'm not convinced yet. Read the boilerplate speech that Jones gave when he first launched the institute back in June: It sounds like he's mostly just interested in how energy policy and national security intersect—a good sign in itself—and isn't deeply invested in specific approaches. Yes, he found himself working for a Chamber of Commerce affiliate, so he allied himself with their way of thinking—that doesn't mean he'll be hostile to Obama's greener approach. More to the point, the national security adviser won't be in charge of crafting the nation's energy policy (he'll have enough on his plate), so maybe all that really matters here is that Jones understands the broader significance of these issues.

--Bradford Plumer