Now, the Energy-Environment Team?

Now that Obama has rolled out the economic team, and we are hearing the rumors about the national security team, it’s time for frivolous and uninformed speculation about who will handle energy/environment policy–which in many ways could be seen as actually a hybrid of economics and national security.

The big players would be: EPA Administrator, Interior Secretary, Energy Secretary, Transportation Secretary, and perhaps (as recommended by the Center for American Progress), a “National Energy Council” similar to the NSC or the National Economic Council.

While lots of folks (probably including your friends at RBC) will speculate on personalities, it seems well to point out one big problem: under the current government structure, no one really has responsibility of energy policy.

The Energy Department is poorly structured for doing this job under its current brief. Most of its responsibilities involve protecting the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile, which really should now be in DHS. Energy seems to have gotten this job under its 1978 organizing statute, and it appears that no one really wants it: at the time, DOD would have been the logical candidate, and could have kept it if wanted to. Somehow, no one suggested or pushed moving the function to DHS in the 2002 reorganization, which suggests again that this is a headache no one wants.

People assume that government agencies want to increase their turf, but that is wrong: they want to increase their autonomy and to some extent their power, but they don’t want tasks that will result in nothing but bad press and don’t really allow them to do anything. Protecting nuclear stockpiles seems like such a task. For similar reasons, J. Edgar Hoover resisted taking on drug enforcement for decades as FBI Director.

DOE does provide the lion’s share of renewable energy and energy efficiency funding, and does at times set efficiency standards for electrical appliances (I’m not sure what its authority is to do this now). So it’s a place to start.

But this is tricky: you can’t become more energy-efficient and independent without dealing with the transportation sector and environmental regulations, but these two issues concern more than just energy. So maybe the National Energy Council makes sense. But let’s get the nuclear weapons out of there–perhaps by interagency MOU, if that is allowable under the statute.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.