By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent
WASHINGTON, Dec 22 (Reuters) - President-elect Barack Obama’s new "green dream team" is committed to battling climate change and ready to push for big policy reforms, in stark contrast with the Bush administration, environmental advocates said on Monday.
"If this team can’t advance strong national policy on global warming, then no one can," said Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, referring to Obama’s picks for the top energy and environment jobs in his administration, which takes office on Jan. 20.
"This caliber of scientists in any administration would be a major headline," Knobloch said by telephone on Monday. "But in contrast to the eight years of the Bush administration, where political appointees ran roughshod over science at a terrible cost to the truth, they stand out even more."
Last week, Obama picked a Nobel physics laureate, Stephen Chu, to head the Energy Department; former environmental lawyer and U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar as Interior secretary; former New Jersey environment chief Lisa Jackson to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Nancy Sutley, deputy mayor of Los Angeles, to run the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
The president-elect tapped Carol Browner, who headed the Clinton administration’s EPA, to take a new White House position coordinating policy on energy, environment and climate change. For White House science adviser, Obama chose John Holdren, a Harvard University expert on climate change.
For the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which deals with weather and climate among other matters, Obama named Jane Lubchenco, a marine biologist who has been sharply critical of that agency for allowing overfishing.
5 MILLION GREEN JOBS
"Each one of them is not only experienced and capable ... but also very, very committed to doing something on climate," said Tony Kreindler of advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund. "They really get the connection between climate change and economic growth and how pursuing renewable energy can create jobs."
Obama has pledged to create 5 million green jobs and break U.S. dependence on foreign oil, investing $150 billion in the next decade to build an energy economy that relies on renewable sources such as wind, solar and geothermal energy.
"None of this will be easy, because some of the powerful special interests and their allies still have their heads in the sand," said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters.
However, Karpinski said that with Obama’s "great new green dream team" and more members in the U.S. Congress who support action to curb climate change, a law to limit greenhouse gas emissions is more likely, as is a global agreement to succeed the current phase of the carbon-capping Kyoto Protocol.
Even most of those who disagree with Obama on climate change accept the qualifications of his appointees, but Myron Ebell of the pro-business Competitive Enterprise Institute criticized Holdren and Lubchenco as being "on the scientific fringe of global warming alarmism."
Environmental groups have clashed repeatedly with the Bush White House on science policy, especially when that was at odds with energy policy.
President George W. Bush vowed to regulate carbon emissions when he campaigned for the White House in 2000, but changed course soon after taking office in 2001, and for most of his tenure voiced skepticism that cutting back on human-generated carbon dioxide emissions would solve the problem.
Under his stewardship, the United States has been alone among major industrialized nations in rejecting the carbon-capping Kyoto Protocol. Bush has refused to impose economy-wide limits on carbon emissions, maintaining that this would hamper U.S. competition with fast-growing, big-emitting economies like China and India.
Bush’s Environmental Protection Agency chief has balked at limiting climate-warming carbon emissions, even after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the agency has the power to do this.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)