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A shift in the winds

Obama said his environment and energy picks signal a serious push against "oil addiction," warming.

President-elect Barack Obama listens as Energy Secretary- designate Steven Chu, a Nobel winner, talks to reporters.
President-elect Barack Obama listens as Energy Secretary- designate Steven Chu, a Nobel winner, talks to reporters.Read moreAssociated Press

WASHINGTON - President-elect Barack Obama yesterday named an environmental and energy team that he said signaled his determination to tackle global warming and develop alternative sources of energy.

He vowed to "move beyond our oil addiction and create a new hybrid economy."

Obama selected Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu as energy secretary and Carol Browner, a confidante of former Vice President Al Gore, to lead a White House council on energy and climate. Browner headed the Environmental Protection Agency in the Clinton administration.

Two other potential members of an Obama administration were revealed yesterday by sources with knowledge of the decision - Chicago schools chief Arne Duncan as education secretary and Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar as Interior secretary. Obama will formally name Duncan as early as today and Salazar later in the week, the sources said.

The selection of Chu, a Chinese American who shared a Nobel Prize for physics in 1997, received widespread praise on Capitol Hill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said he looked forward to "confirming Chu as quickly as possible."

Chu, 60, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., is a leading advocate of reducing greenhouse gases by developing new energy sources.

"His appointment should send a signal to all that my administration will value science," Obama told reporters in Chicago. "We will make decisions based on the facts."

Obama also announced his choice of Lisa Jackson, former head of New Jersey's environmental agency, as EPA administrator and Nancy Sutley, a deputy Los Angeles mayor, as chair of the White House Council on Environment Quality.

Obama made clear he planned to take energy policy in a sharply different direction from President Bush, promising aggressive moves to address global warming and pump money and support into research into alternative energy sources such as wind, solar and biofuels.

"America must develop new forms of energy and new ways of using it," he said.

He said the dangers of being too heavily dependent on foreign oil "are eclipsed only by the long-term threat of climate change, which, unless we act, will lead to drought and famine abroad, devastating weather patterns and terrible storms on our shores, and disappearance of our coastline at home."

He rejected the notion that economic development and environmental protection cannot go hand in hand.

"We can spark the dynamism of our economy through a long-term investment in renewable energy that will give life to new businesses and industries with good jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced," he said.

Obama has said he wants to spend $15 billion a year to boost alternative energy and energy conservation to make public buildings more efficient, modernize the electricity grid, and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions while protecting and preserving natural resources.

In his remarks, Chu said: "What the world does in the coming decade will have enormous consequences that will last for centuries. It's imperative that we begin without further delay."

Obama said Browner would "coordinate energy and climate policy" from the White House.

The selection of Chu, a scientist and not a political figure, suggested that Browner's political roles in crafting energy and environmental legislation would be considerable. Both Jackson, the EPA nominee, and Sutley worked for Browner at the EPA in the 1990s.

Browner, 53, a Gore protege, served for eight years, longer than anyone, as EPA administrator in the Clinton administration.

No stranger to hard-nose politics, she often clashed with conservative Republicans in Congress over environmental regulations.

The impending appointment of Salazar, revealed by an Obama transition official on condition of anonymity, will round out the president-elect's environment and energy team.

Salazar is a first-term Colorado senator who has established a name for himself on issues of public lands and energy resources. He headed the Colorado Natural Resources Department from 1990 through 1994.

The Interior Department has broad oversight over the nation's energy resources and environment. It oversees oil and gas drilling on public lands and manages the nation's parks and wildlife refuges.

Duncan, the Chicago schools chief and a fellow Harvard alum and basketball-playing friend of Obama's, has run the country's third-biggest school district for seven years.

He has focused on improving struggling schools, closing those that fail, and getting better teachers.

Duncan won praise last week during a Chicago visit by U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings.

"I don't want to hurt his chances, but I think he's a terrific school leader," she said, calling him "a fellow reformer."

Duncan ran an education nonprofit on Chicago's South Side before working in Chicago Public Schools under its former chief, Paul Vallas, who is a former Philadelphia schools chief who now heads the schools in New Orleans.

Obama's choice of education secretary has been anticipated, and argued about, by education groups anxious to see what the president-elect will do to fix the country's ailing schools.

Obama managed throughout his campaign to avoid taking sides in the contentious debate between teachers' unions and others over the direction of education and the fate of President Bush's No Child Left Behind accountability law.