By Jeff Mason
CHICAGO, Dec 4 (Reuters) - With his national security and economic teams largely in place, U.S. President-elect Barack Obama is turning his attention to filling top energy and environmental posts, although Nobel Peace laureate Al Gore appears to be out of the mix.
Obama, who takes over for President George W. Bush on Jan. 20, has made it clear his White House tenure will signal a break from his predecessor on climate change and other environmental policy issues.
Two weeks after his victory over Republican John McCain on Nov. 4, the Democrat repeated his intention to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 despite the economic crisis.
The message to potential Cabinet and staff picks? These jobs will have a significantly higher profile than previous administrations.
The posts still up for grabs include energy secretary, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and a newly created climate "czar."
But the most high profile person said to have been in contention for the latter post, former Vice President Al Gore, is not interested.
"Vice President Gore has said both prior to President-elect Obama being elected and since he’s been elected that he does not have an interest in serving in the administration," said Gore’s spokeswoman, Kalee Kreider.
Gore won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his work to combat rising temperatures and boost awareness of climate change.
Obama pledged during this year’s presidential primaries to make Gore, who made fighting climate change a personal crusade after losing the 2000 election to Bush, a major player on the subject in a potential Obama administration.
Kreider said the two speak regularly but those conversations were private.
Another potential superstar pick -- Republican California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- is also out of the picture.
"He has not been approached and he is not interested," said spokesman Aaron McLear, adding the governor intended to finish out his term, which ends in January 2011.
California has been a leader in cutting greenhouse gas emissions under his administration.
So who is up for the jobs? Obama’s transition team is keeping quiet, but industry and environmental sources have focused on a handful of candidates with environmental and executive experience.
Carol Browner, who was EPA administrator under President Bill Clinton and currently leads Obama’s energy and environment transition task force, is a top contender for the climate chief position, said one source with knowledge of the process, adding a decision was expected in the next 10 days.
The source said vetting for those positions was not completed and Obama officials were still working out how a climate official in the White House would affect the roles of other policy players.
Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a strong supporter of Obama during his campaign, is said to be in the running for a top Cabinet position, with energy secretary being one high-profile possibility.
The popular governor, on Obama’s short list of potential vice presidential picks earlier this year, has made a big push for renewable energy in Kansas, setting a target for 20 percent of the state’s energy needs to be met with wind by 2020.
Obama has promised to increase U.S. use of renewable energy sources dramatically to reduce dependence on foreign suppliers of oil.
"Governor Sebelius is honored to be mentioned as a potential secretary and will do whatever she can to help the Obama administration," her spokeswoman said in an e-mail, declining to comment on "hypothetical" jobs.
Industry sources said Dan Reicher, climate director at Google.org and a former Energy Department official in the Clinton administration, was also a strong contender for energy secretary.
He declined to talk about his prospects on Thursday except to tell Reuters he enjoyed being on Obama’s transition team.
Names mentioned for EPA administrator include Lisa Jackson, who has served as commissioner of the department of environmental protection in New Jersey, and Mary Nichols, an assistant administrator for the EPA under Clinton.
(Additional reporting Tom Doggett and Ayesha Rascoe in Washington, editing by Philip Barbara)