On Kerry’s First Day

In a recent In These Times column, former Sierra Club President Adam Werbach (who now heads the Common Assets Defense Fund) muses on how great it would be to send certain Bush-era officials packing in the first days of the John Kerry administration. Chief in his sights is Deputy Secretary of the Interior J. Steven Griles, a former oil and coal lobbyist who’s worked overtime to, as Werbach puts it, “lower emission standards for power plants, speed up the sales of gas leases in the Rocky Mountain front, continue the mining practice of mountaintop removal and weaken the Clean Water Act.”

My choice for Secretary of State, Lester Brown.

Not bad for a day’s work, and he doesn’t even have to live on his miserly federal pay—Griles is still being paid $284,000 a year by his former firm. While he’s cleaning house, Kerry would also be giving pink slips to such luminaries as Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton (a determined advocate of private uses for public land), EPA head Mike Leavitt (best known so far for attempting to weaken mercury standards), the nuclear- and “clean coal”-boosting Energy Secretary, Spencer Abraham, and many lesser lights.

Werbach has his own ideas about who’s qualified to fill these vacant positions. He’d like to see Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope as secretary of the interior; green attorney Robert Kennedy, Jr. as EPA secretary; Jane Goodall in charge of the National Forest Service; and Amory Lovins heading the Department of Energy. It’s safe to say that Congress might be a mite, shall we say, restive when called to confirm those nominees, but there’s no denying they’d all be strong advocates.But this is my column, so I get to make my own choices:

" EPA Secretary: Congressman Christopher Shays (R-CT). I know he’s a Republican and all, but Shays has a 93 percent lifetime rating from the League of Conservation Voters, which has endorsed him nine times. LCV President Deb Callahan says about Shays, “In the climate of energy crisis and dependence, Congressman Christopher Shays has been a leader in the fight to conserve resources and diversify our energy sources.” He voted against the Bush-Cheney energy bill, and has consistently opposed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He commented, “I find it unconscionable that we would now consider despoiling one of North America’s last great wilderness areas, when we are unwilling to take even the smallest steps towards slowing the growth in demand for energy resources.” Shays would, one hopes, be less willing to compromise his green principles than was former New Jersey governor Christie Todd Whitman, the first Bush EPA head. Congress would certainly vote quickly to confirm him. Another possible candidate would be Lois Marie Gibbs, a symbol of protecting the land since pollution sent her packing from her home in Love Canal, New York. As the executive director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, she’s fought to protect Americans from chemical pollution and dioxin, and she could do the same from a federal pulpit.

" Secretary of the Interior: Wendell Berry. Now here’s a guy who cares about America. And the earth, with a small “e.” The author of 32 books and a Kentucky farmer, Berry says, “Let’s say you were from somewhere else, seeing this Earth from space for the first time. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t be satisfied with that view; I’d want to get closer, walk around on it, even get down on my hands and knees. That’s how I prefer to see the Earth.” In his “Thoughts in the Face of Fear,” he made environmental protection a core principle: “We should reconsider and renew and extend our efforts to protect the natural foundations of the human economy: soil, water, and air. We should protect every intact ecosystem and watershed that we have left, and begin restoration of those that have been damaged.”

" Attorney General. That’s the job I’d give to Robert Kennedy, Jr. His dad did it, remember.

" Secretary of Energy. Amory Lovins isn’t a bad choice, but I might give the job to a can-do innovator like Paul MacCready, who built the world’s first successful human-powered airplane and solar-powered race cars, too. MacCready built the prototype of what became the General Motors EV-1 car, designed the Gossamer Albatross, a pedal plane that weighed only 55 pounds, and continues to innovate for the planet at his company AeroVironment. He realizes that even very clean cars won’t solve all our transportation challenges. “A Ferrari sport-utility vehicle running on cold fusion or hydrogen might have many benefits, but it won’t do much about traffic and parking problems.”

" Secretary of State. This one has to go to Lester Brown, internationally minded founder of the Worldwatch Institute, who now heads the Earth Policy Institute. Brown has worked with world leaders for the past 30 years, and has won respect around the globe for his Earth-centered advocacy that reaches far beyond national self-interest.

Other people I’d like to see putting their talents to work if Kerry wins are Deb Callahan of LCV, thinker and innovator Jeremy Rifkin, former U.S. Senator and Clinton undersecretary Tim Wirth, living systems innovator John Todd, simplicity guru Vicki Robin, and Alisa Gravitz, executive director of Co-op America. Yes, it’s a very environmentally oriented list, but what exactly is wrong with that? Environmentalism used to be a bipartisan issue.