Obama announced his energy team yesterday, nominating Nobel physicist Steven Chu to head the Department of Energy. This is an important victory for science and environmentalists, since it is the first time a scientist is heading a major executive branch department since the 1970s, according to Marc Ambinder, political columnist at The Atlantic Monthly. Chu has an impressive resume – he’s a Nobel Prize winning physicist and he’s been the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory since 2004, where he has pushed aggressively for research into solar power, biofuels, and other alternative energy as a way to combat global warming. Obama also gave former EPA administrator Carol Brower a new White House position overseeing environmental, energy, and climate policies. Lisa Jackson of New Jersey to be his Environmental Protection Agency head and Nancy Sutley, deputy mayor of Los Angeles, will lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
What does this mean for Canada? The tar sands and its growing emissions will likely come under more intense scrutiny. In June 2008, Obama said he would break America’s addiction to “dirty, dwindling, and dangerously expensive” oil. This was widely perceived as a reference to Alberta’s tar sands, since it takes a lot of water to separate the oil from the bitumen, about 2 – 4.5 barrels of water for every one of oil. More recently, Alberta’s oil industry came under criticism from environmental activists at the UN climate talks in Poznan. An international assessment of Canada climate change policies ranked the country second last (56 out of 57). The David Suzuki and Pembina Institute also released a statement with other environmental groups criticizing Canada’s position:
Canada must do its fair share. We need and expect more from our government at a time when scientists‚ warnings are stark and the world is already struggling with the impacts of global warming. The Minister spoke of urgency and the need to be informed by the best science. We noted with interest that he did not mention Canada’s current emissions target for 2020, which falls far short of scientific recommendations.