Press Conference with President-Elect Barack Obama: Energy and Environmental Nominations

Press Conference

By:  Barack Obama II Joe Biden, Jr.
Date: Dec. 15, 2008
Location: Chicago, IL


PRESS CONFERENCE WITH PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA ALSO PARTICIPATING: STEVEN CHU, DIRECTOR, LAWRENCE BERKELEY NATIONAL LABORATORY, DESIGNATED TO BE SECRETARY OF ENERGY; LISA JACKSON, COMMISSIONER, NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION, DESIGNATED TO BE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY ADMINISTRATOR; NANCY SUTLEY, DEPUTY MAYOR FOR ENERGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT FOR LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, DESIGNATED TO CHAIR THE WHITE HOUSE COUNCIL ON ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY; CAROL BROWNER, FORMER ADMINISTRATOR, ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY, DESIGNATED TO BE ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR ENERGY AND CLIMATE CHANGE; VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT JOE BIDEN

SUBJECT: ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENTAL PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATIONS

THE DRAKE HOTEL, CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

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PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: Good afternoon, everybody.

Over the past few weeks, Vice President-elect Biden and I have announced key members of our economic and national security teams. In the 21st century, we know that the future of our economy and national security is inextricably linked with one challenge: energy. So today we're pleased to introduce the majority of the team that will lead our efforts on energy and the environment. I say the majority because we are going to be doing separate announcements for the secretary of the Interior, who's going to have a lot to do on energy policy and obviously Interior -- or Transportation, Agriculture will be important as well.

In the next few years, the choices that we make will help determine the kind of country and world that we will leave to our children and our grandchildren. All of us know the problems that are rooted in our addiction to foreign oil. It constrains our economy, shifts wealth to hostile regimes and leaves us dependent on unstable regions.

These urgent dangers 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 the disappearance of our coastline at home.

For over three decades we've listened to a growing chorus of warnings about our energy dependence. We've heard president after president promise to chart a new course. We've heard Congress talk about energy independence only to pull up short in the face of opposition from special interests. We've seen Washington launch policy after policy. Yet our dependence on foreign oil has only grown, even as the world's resources are disappearing.

This time has to be different. This time, we cannot fail nor can we be lulled into complacency, simply because the price at the pump has for now gone down from $4 a gallon. To control our own destiny, American must develop new forms of energy and new ways of using it. This is not a challenge for government alone. It's a challenge for all of us.

The pursuit of a new energy economy requires a sustained, all- hands-on-deck effort, because the foundation of our energy independence is right here in America, in the power of wind and solar and new crops and new technologies, in the innovation of our scientists and entrepreneurs and the dedication and skill of our workforce.

Those are the resources that we have to harness to move beyond our oil addiction and create a new hybrid economy. As we face this challenge, we can seize boundless opportunities for our people. We can create millions of jobs, starting with a 21st-century economic recovery plan that puts Americans to work building wind farms, solar panels and fuel-efficient cars.

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.

We'll make public buildings more efficient, modernize our electricity grid, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while protecting and preserving our natural resources.

We must also recognize that the solution to global climate change must be global. I spoke a few days ago with Senator John Kerry, who updated me on the recent climate negotiations in Poland. Just as we work to reduce our own emissions, we must forge international solutions to ensure that every nation is doing its part. As we do so, America will lead not just at the negotiating table; we will lead, as we always have, through innovation and discovery, through hard work and the pursuit of a common purpose.

The team that I have assembled here today is uniquely suited to meet the great challenges of this defining moment. They are leading experts and accomplished managers, and they are ready to reform government and help transform our economy so that our people are more prosperous, our nation is more secure and our planet is protected.

Dr. Steven Chu is a Nobel prize-winning physicist who has been working at the cutting edge of our nation's efforts to develop new and cleaner forms of energy. He blazed new trails as a scientist, teacher and administrator, and has recently led the Berkeley National Laboratory in pursuing new alternative and renewable energies.

Steven is uniquely suited to be our next secretary of Energy, as we make this pursuit a guiding purpose of the Department of Energy as well as a national mission. The scientists at our national labs will have a distinguished peer at the helm. His appointment should send a signal to all that my administration will value science, we will make decisions based on the facts, and we understand that facts demand bold action.

For my administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, I've chosen Lisa Jackson. Lisa has spent a lifetime in public service at the local, state and federal level. As commissioner of New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection, she helped make her state a leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and developing new sources of energy, and she has the talent and experience to continue this effort at the EPA. Lisa also shares my commitment to restoring the EPA's robust role in protecting our air, our water and abundant natural resources so that our environment is cleaner and our communities are safer.

Nancy Sutley will be an integral part of this team as the chair of my Council on Environmental Quality in the White House. In recent years we've seen states and cities take the initiative in forging innovative solutions on energy. Nancy's been at the cutting edge of this effort, working as the regional administrator for the EPA, at the state level in Sacramento, and recently as the deputy mayor for Energy and the Environment in Los Angeles. Now she will bring this unique experience to Washington and be a key player in helping to make our government more efficient in coordinating our efforts to protect our environment at home and around the globe.

Finally, the scope of the effort before us will demand coordination across the government and my personal engagement as president. That's why I'm naming Carol Browner to a new post in the White House to coordinate energy and climate policy. Carol understands that our efforts to create jobs, achieve energy security and combat climate change demand integration among different agencies, cooperation between federal, state and local governance, and partnership with the private sector. She brings the unmatched experience of being a successful and longest-serving administrator of the EPA. She will be indispensable in implementing an ambitious and complex energy policy.

As I said before, later this week I will be announcing my designee for secretary of the Interior, which will fill out my energy and environmental team.

The Interior Department will play a critical role in meeting the challenges that I've discussed today.

Looking ahead, I'm confident that we will be ready to begin the journey towards a new energy frontier on January 20th. This will be a leading priority of my presidency and a defining test of our time. We can't afford complacency nor accept more broken promises. We won't create a new energy economy overnight. We won't protect our environment overnight. But we can begin that work right now, if we think anew and if we act anew. Now we must have the will to act, and to act boldly.

So with that, I'd like to invite my team to say a few words, starting with Dr. Chu.

MR. CHU: Thank you.

I'm honored to be selected as the nominee for secretary of Energy. In the years ahead, the Department of Energy will be a major force in meeting the challenges that the president-elect has described. Its role is to support energy research and development that will lead to innovation in the private sector, to nurture broad- based scientific research that is essential for our future prosperity, and to provide the scientific leadership to minimize the proliferation and use of nuclear weapons.

In our current economic crisis, people are losing their jobs and homes. Companies are collapsing. Some say we have to concentrate exclusively on reestablishing the health of the economy. I look forward to being part of the president-elect's team, which believes that we must repair the economy and put us on a path forward towards sustainable energy.

In a preface to a study, "Lighting the Way Towards a Sustainable Energy Future," the two co-chairs, Jose Goldemberg and I, wrote, "We believe that aggressive support of energy science and technology, coupled with incentives that accelerate the development and deployment of innovative solutions, can transform the entire landscape of energy demand and supply. What the world does in the coming decade will have enormous consequences that will last for centuries.

It is imperative that we begin without further delay.

"On December 10th, 1950, William Faulkner spoke at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm. He said, 'I believe that man will not merely endure; he will prevail. He is immortal because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.'"

President-elect Obama has set the tone and pace for moving our country forward with optimism and calm determination. I hope to emulate his example. With these virtues, the United States and the world can and will prevail over our economic, energy and climate- change challenges.

MS. JACKSON: Mr. President-elect, thank you for your nomination to head the Environmental Protection Agency. As an environmentalist, as a public servant, as a native New Orleanian, as a New Jerseyan and most importantly as a mother, there is simply no higher calling for me than to lead this vital agency at this vital time.

Now more than ever, our country is in need of leadership on a host of urgent environmental challenges that face our communities, our cities, our farms, and our rivers, streams, lakes and oceans. At the top of the list is the threat of climate change, which requires us to transform how we produce and use energy throughout the economy. But there is much more on the agenda: air pollution, toxic chemicals and children's health issues, redevelopment and waste site cleanup issues, and justice for communities who pair -- who bear disproportionate risk and have to much to gain from your green-collar economic agenda.

EPA was born in 1970 out of urgency and reflected the American commitment that the environment must be embraced. Its talented staff -- engineers, scientists, attorneys -- will now rise again to meet our nation's 21st-century needs. Mr. President, if confirmed, I pledge to lead the agency in support of your vision and in cooperation with the immensely talented team you have formed here to answer our country's call and to protect our country's environment.

I want to thank you for this opportunity, Mr. President-elect. And I also want to thank my husband Kenny and my sons Marcus and Brian, who are here, for their patience and support. Public service often comes at their expense and much less often, as it does today, at their reward.

Thank you.

MS. SUTLEY: Thank you, Mr. President-elect, for giving me the opportunity to serve our nation as chair of the Council on Environmental Quality. I am honored, grateful and humbled. In your campaign, you talked about growing the green economy. You recognized that the challenge to our planet, from global warming, is a challenge we must meet for ourselves and our children.

We must transform our economy and create new jobs and a new prosperity based on sustainability. I believe, as you do, that we can do it. We have seen states like California and cities like Los Angeles take on local and global environmental threats, innovate and create a more sustainable path.

You are rightly focused on restoring the federal government to its rightful role as a leader and a partner, at home and abroad, in protecting public health in our environment. My parents came to the United States with little more than their hopes for a better life. They believed in the power of the American dream.

Mr. President-elect, I promise to you and to the American people that I'll do my part to restore the American dream to its fullest measure, by strengthening our economy and creating a more sustainable future.

Thank you.

MS. BROWNER: Thank you, Mr. President-elect and Mr. Vice President-elect. It is a great honor to be a part of America's new team.

It is also a tremendous responsibility. This is a pivotal moment in our nation's history. The challenges are immense, but the opportunities are even greater, especially in the interrelated fields of the economy, our security, and our energy and environmental future.

The American people believe we can do better, and they are right. We can create jobs, curb greenhouse-gas emissions, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and help restore America's leadership around the world by shaping an environmentally sustainable world economy. To succeed, we must work together. We must work across party lines. We must enlist both the private and public sectors. And we must summon the best from our partners around the world.

I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to serve in your administration, and pledge the full measure of my time and energy to help create a brighter future for the American people. Thank you.

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: Well, Mr. President-elect, what we see here today are four very outstanding individuals that you've chosen for something that's been sorely lacking, in my view, the past eight years, when it comes to combating climate change and protecting our environment; that is, clarity, commitment, and a deep conviction that each of the people you've chosen shares.

There's no doubt about the challenges in front of us, but there is no putting our heads in the sand either, as, in my view, we have done for some time, particularly when it comes to science --

Welcome, Doctor. (Chuckles.)

I -- there is -- there's no confusion as well about the need for us to act.

In Carol Browner we have a proven and forceful advocate for the environment. I've worked with Carol for some years.

In Dr. Steven Chu we have a Nobel-Prize-winning physicist who understands that technology and innovation are the cornerstones of solving our energy and climate problems.

In Lisa Jackson and Nancy Sutley we have two individuals who cover us coast to coast, New Jersey to California, who have been in the forefront of these environmental issues in their respective states.

The president-elect has made it clear that -- that this will be an administration and a White House -- and a White House -- committed to freeing this nation from its dependence on fossil fuels and to leading in combating the threat of climate change and reinvigorating our commitment to a cleaner environment.

As President-elect Obama and his incredible team lead us in tackling these challenge(s), I'm proud to assume the office held by a man who awakened the world to these issues, Al Gore. And I pledge to the American people that the Office of the Vice President will no longer be an obstacle to environmental protection, but it will be, as it was under President (sic) Gore, a force for leaping ahead.

So, President-elect Obama, congratulations on the team you assembled. And -- and the podium is yours.

PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: Okay. I'm going to take some questions.

Let's start with Stephen Power.

Q Mr. President-elect, how quickly does your administration intend to give California permission to regulate automobile greenhouse-gas emissions? And do you have any intention of reinstating the ban on offshore oil drilling that expired?

PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: Well, both are items that my environmental team as well as my energy team are going to be reviewing in the weeks to come. But I think it is very important just to look at the history when it comes to the regulation of emissions in California. Consistently, California has hit the bar, and then the rest of the country has followed. And rather than it being an impediment to economic growth, it has helped to become an engine of economic growth. And one of the key points that I want to make at this press conference -- and I will repeat again and again during the course of my presidency -- is there is not a contradiction between economic growth and sound environmental practices.

I think that the future of innovation and technology is going to be what drives our economy into the future. A new energy economy is going to be part of what creates the millions of new jobs that we need. And that's why my economic recovery plan is going to be focused on: How can we make a series of down payments on things that we should have done 10 or 20 or 30 years ago, but have delayed?

And so we get a twofer. We get a(n) immediate jump-start to the economy and jobs that are immediately being created on things like a smart grid or working to make our buildings more energy efficient, and at the same time we're setting the path for long-term, sustained economic growth.

With respect to the moratorium on offshore drilling, what I said during the campaign was that I was open to the idea of offshore drilling if it was part of a comprehensive package to achieve energy independence. I'm not thrilled with it simply lapsing as a consequence of inaction, without broader thought to how are we going to achieve energy independence and reduce our dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels. So what this team will be charged with, in part, is figuring out how can we arrive at a comprehensive energy strategy that meets the goals of our national security, meets the goals of our economy, and meets the goals of preserving our planet for our children.

Mark -- Mark Memmott at USA Today.

Q Sticking with the economy -- (off mike) --

PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: Yeah.

Q Can you give the American people a sense of when things will start getting better? And how should they hold you accountable? Do we hope to expect in a year that we'll be seeing job growth or will we still be in the same situation we are in now?

PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: Well, I want to be completely honest with the American people. I don't have a crystal ball. What I have control of is making the good, smart decisions that lead to long-term sustainable economic development and growth.

Now, here's what I'm confident about, that our economic recovery plan, our 21st century investments will create jobs immediately that would not otherwise be created. We've got shovel-ready projects all across the country that governors and mayors are pleading to fund. And the minute we can get those investments to the state level, jobs are going to be created.

We know that there are buildings, school buildings in particular, but I think public buildings generally, that need to be retrofitted to make them more energy-efficient, and that we will get that money back, so that not only are we creating jobs but we're also making those operations more efficient and saving taxpayers money over the long term.

That is work that immediately is going to be created as a consequence of the economic recovery plan. So we know that we are going to create jobs that wouldn't otherwise be created. We know that we're going to put ourselves on a path to long-term, sustainable growth. We know that we're going to start getting serious, about how our federal budget operates, so that we're not wasting money on programs that don't work. And we're going to do an exhaustive review.

We know that by setting up the financial regulatory structure that is long overdue, we can prevent this crisis from happening again. And we know that we can put in place the kinds of relief for homeowners and foreclosure prevention plans that help to strengthen the base of the economy.

And it is my expectation that by doing those things, we are going to create 2.5 million jobs, as I discussed earlier. But my hope more importantly is, not only are we creating jobs through this economic recovery process. What I'm also looking for is the private sector, the financial system to regain confidence and that through our actions, we're able to jumpstart an era of innovation that leads to competitiveness in the world economy over the long term.

Q (Off mike.)

PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: Well, I think, the yardstick should be, am I creating these jobs, and are we strengthening our economy?

Q (Off mike.)

PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: All right.

Brian Naylor at NPR.

Q (Off mike.)

On behalf of my Chicago colleagues and others here, I'm curious. Your office put out a statement earlier today, saying that there were no inappropriate contacts between your office and the governor of Illinois. And I'm wondering if you could address reports that your incoming chief of staff did speak with the staffer of Governor Blagojevich.

PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: Right.

Well, as I said in a press conference last week, I had no contact with the governor's office and I had no contact with anybody in the governor's office. And what I indicated last week is that there was nothing that my office did that was in any way inappropriate or related to the charges that have been brought.

Now, beyond that, as we said in the statement today, we were prepared to release the findings of the review that had been done, which are thorough and comprehensive.

The U.S. Attorneys Office asked us to hold off releasing those for a week. So I would ask for your patience, because I do not want to interfere with an ongoing investigation.

But there is nothing in the review that was presented to me that in any way contradicted my earlier statements that this appalling set of circumstances that we've seen arise had nothing to do with my office and that, you know, those facts will be forthcoming to all of you in due course. We just want to make sure that we're not interfering with an ongoing and active investigation.

Okay? All right, guys. Thank you so much.

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: Congratulations -- (off mike). Thanks for doing -- (off mike).

(Off-mike conversations.)

PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: Come on, Joe. Stop holding up -- (off mike). (Laughter.)

END.