- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2009

Senators quizzing President-elect Barack Obama‘s energy and environment Cabinet members last week pondered whether they were vetting the wrong people - raising larger questions about who will steer the nation’s climate and energy policies.

Sen. James M. Inhofe, ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, asked Nancy Sutley, Mr. Obama’s pick for Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) chairman, whether she would be undermined by the new climate czar, Carol M. Browner.

“I’m quite concerned that the chair’s role has been diluted by the addition of former EPA Administrator Carol Browner as White House climate and energy czar,” said Mr. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican. “The new Senate-confirmed CEQ chair will be expected to have the full authority to represent the White House on all matters before this committee.”

Mr. Obama announced last month that Mrs. Browner would coordinate among Cabinet members who work on energy and environmental goals from the new post on the White House staff.

The hearings last week provided the first major forum for questions about who will guide climate and energy priorities in the new administration, which have been brewing since Mr. Obama said last month he would create the new post.

A transition-team spokeswoman said Mrs. Browner will work with Cabinet appointments to advise Mr. Obama.

“The range of energy and climate issues impact the entire federal government, and [Mr. Obama] will rely on the advice and counsel of not only these individuals, but also additional members of his Cabinet and White House advisers for their expertise and input,” said Jen Psaki, a transition-team spokeswoman.

Last week, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman asked Energy Secretary-designate Steven Chu where he fit in the new Obama organizational chart.

“How does this affect your role, and how do you see your role in the issue of climate change, which you referred to, as it relates to others in the administration?” the New Mexico Democrat asked Mr. Chu.

Later in the hearing, Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, suggested that Mrs. Browner appear for a quasi-confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee because of her “czar” status coordinating energy and environmental policy.

Members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee questioned whether Mr. Obama’s pick for EPA chief, Lisa Jackson, would have clear authority on setting environmental policy.

“Ms. Browner’s appointment into an office of energy and climate change does not change EPA’s statutory responsibilities and in my mind, change EPA’s other nonstatutory responsibilities to advise this body, to advise the president,” Mrs. Jackson said in response to a question from Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican.

Although senators have asked about who will call the shots, confirmation hearings for Mr. Obama’s energy and environment picks mostly have been cordial this week.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer said she was excited to have a strong team working on cleaning up the environment and told Mrs. Jackson she was happy with Mr. Obama’s restructuring.

“I love that idea because I think bringing Carol Browner and bringing you and bringing Nancy Sutley - and you all have your responsibility statutorily and of the law. I think it would be a very good thing,” said Mrs. Boxer, California Democrat.

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