U.S. president-elect Barack Obama has sent clear signals that he intends to move swiftly to start the transition from the Bush administration to his own. However, two areas to which Obama should devote his early attention aren’t traditional priorities: the environment and energy.
Two important policy areas that are almost universally considered urgent priorities for the next president are defense (including domestic national security) and the economy. That makes sense, and of course to run daily business he also needs administrators and advisors such as Rahm Emanuel, an early pick for chief of staff.
But Obama takes office at a time when the environment and energy take positions of great importance, elevating them beyond the second- or third-tier priorites (or lower) they have occupied under earlier administrations. In fact, the environment and energy now are so intimately bound up with the physical and economic security of the United States that I think it makes sense for Obama to address energy and the environment at the same level of importance as national security and the economy.
Obama is in a unique position to do two things if he makes environmental and energy problems top-tier priorities: 1) increase national security by demoting foreign oil to the status of a useful but not critical commodity, by powering more and more of this country with other energy sources (former CIA Director R. James Woolsey goes even further and identifies all oil, not just that from foreign producers, as a security threat), and 2) rejuvenate the economy by making the United States a world leader in the research and development of those viable alternative energy sources.
Whether he sticks with the traditional cabinet structure, creates a new cabinet position, decides to task existing cabinet members with new responsibilities or chooses some other method, the president-elect should act early to address the environment, energy, national security and the economy as a cohesive set of interrelated issues.