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Obama picks ex-EPA chief for new post

Former EPA chief Carol Browner will soon return to the center of political battles — this time as President-elect Barack Obama's energy and environment coordinator.
Obama Environement
Carol BrownerJames A. Finley / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

It hit Carol Browner in the final weeks of the Clinton administration: She had been head of the Environmental Protection Agency for eight years, nearly a quarter of the agency's existence, far longer than any other administrator.

And they had been tumultuous years. Conservative Republicans, led by Newt Gingrich and his Contract with America, were pushing to reduce government regulations and — as Browner said at the time — had her agency "front and center in its cross hairs."

Now, nearly eight years later, Browner will soon return to the center of the political battles over environment and energy — this time as a powerful voice within the White House of President-elect Barack Obama.

She is expected to coordinate the various agencies that play a role in energy and environmental policy, especially on issues such as climate change that don't fit nicely in the silos of the federal government. Those agencies could include the EPA and the Transportation, Energy and Interior departments.

Browner brings a strong environmental resume to the White House, having worked as an attorney and management consultant on a wide range of environmental issues, from clean air regulations to climate change.

Harsh words for Bush
She has made her views clear, calling for a shift in the nation's environmental agenda away from that of President George W. Bush, whose tenure she has described as "the worst environmental administration ever." She has blamed the Bush White House with undermining scientists, stalling and in some cases reversing clean air improvements, and refusing to address climate change.

While it's unclear what role Browner will play as head of a new White House energy and environment council, she is certain to have the ear of the new president, who has promised to make energy — including a push toward more renewable sources — and tackling climate change priorities.

During her days at EPA, Browner argued repeatedly that environmental protection and economic development can coexist. She sought to bring in business interests to reach compromises on environmental regulations. When defending tough new regulations, she frequently has argued that businesses can find ways to meet tougher standards without undue costs.

"Time and time again ... naysayers have warned that it will cost too much, that it will impose an enormous economic burden," Browner told a congressional hearing last September. "But once we have set those standards, American ingenuity and innovation have found a solution at a far lower costs than predicted."

Once worked for Gore
Before her stint at the EPA, Browner headed Florida's department of environmental regulation from 1991 to 1993. Earlier she worked for then-Sen. Lawton Chiles of Florida and later as legislative director for then-Sen. Al Gore of Tennessee. Over the years she has kept close ties with Gore, and her appointment was almost certainly a topic of discussions when Gore met with Obama on Tuesday.

Since leaving the EPA in 2000, Browner has been a principal of the Albright Group, a consulting firm, and Albright Capital Management, an investment adviser, where she specialized in areas of environmental protection, energy conservation and climate change. She is a senior adviser on the Obama transition team.

Browner has both her supporters and her detractors.

Within hours of word of her new role in the Obama administration, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., a longtime antagonist, called her "a proud liberal who has long advocated an environmental agenda that would drive up energy costs on families and put thousands of Americans out of jobs."

In 1997, while she headed the EPA, Browner was named "mother of the year" by the National Mothers Day Committee and in 1998 "Woman of the Year" by Glamour Magazine. She is married to Thomas Downey, a former New York Democratic congressman, and has a son from a previous marriage.

ADDITION Obama Environment
This image provided by Ariel Hauter shows Nancy Sutley who will be selected by President-elect Brack Obama to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Democratic officials said Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2008.Ariel Hauter

In a related decision, Obama reported has settled on Nancy Sutley to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

The deputy mayor for energy and environment in Los Angeles, Stutley is the first prominent gay to earn a senior role in Obama's new administration.

She was an EPA official during the Clinton administration, including being a special assistant to the EPA administrator in Washington. She also previously served on the California State Water Resources Control Board and was an energy adviser to former Gov. Gray Davis.