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Published: Sunday, 12/28/2008

Positive signs emerge for environment

The best environmental story of 2008?

Hard to say. So let's start with a developing one: The way the enviro pieces are falling into place for the new administration.

I don't like getting hung up on political appointments. But whether you're running a business, a baseball team, or the federal government, the tone starts at the top.

And people from many walks of life are on board with President-elect Obama's picks of Nobel laureate Steven Chu as secretary of energy; former New Jersey environment chief Lisa P. Jackson as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator; U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar as secretary of Interior; former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack as secretary of Agriculture; Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Nancy Sutley as chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and former EPA Administrator Carol Browner in a new White House position overseeing climate and energy policy.

Mr. Chu is America's first Nobel-winning scientist nominated as a cabinet member. During the Clinton administration, Ms. Browner established herself as one of the EPA's most impassioned crusaders for the environment in the agency's 36-year history.

So if I'm reading this right, a young senator from Illinois who was largely an unknown and ripped for his inexperience throughout the campaign is pushing the right buttons. He's showing signs of being tough on the environment, yet pragmatic.

It goes beyond that. Those who covered the Bush Administration up close, such as high-profile journalist Bill Moyers, complained loudly about a complete and utter disdain for science the past eight years.

Not so under Mr. Obama. There are signs on Capitol Hill that research money will flow like water to science-based programs. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently talked about science as an economic stimulus, as has Mr. Obama.

In Ohio, that could mean a greater investment in the Cleveland Clinic, NASA's Glenn Research Center or the University of Toledo's Clean and Alternative Energy Incubator and its affiliated Wright Center for Photovoltaics Innovation and Commercialization, just to name a few.

Lord knows we need some inspiration locally, especially with Chrysler's decision to suspend production for at least a month and furlough 3,700 workers in the Toledo area because of market shifts away from gas guzzlers.

It's not a fair trade, of course. But let's give a hoorah for companies such as First Solar and Xunlight that are leading Ohio's hopes for a transition into a clean, advanced technology era.

Lest there be any confusion that times are about to change, consider the Democratic Party's ouster of John Dingell as chairman of the powerful House Committee on Energy and Commerce in November.

It was a political embarrassment for the southeastern Michigan Democrat who is about to become the longest-serving U.S. House member in history. By putting liberal Democrat Henry Waxman of California into that seat, the party left no doubt that climate legislation is coming soon for coal-fired power plants.

Top guffaw of the year? It would be too easy picking one of President Bush's many slips of the tongue.

I'll give it to Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, when he said at a public forum in Toledo on March 31 that he envisioned a day in which Ohio would sell Great Lakes water - i.e., our future - to other parts of the country.

He recanted within 24 hours and made amends with environmental groups on April 23 when he testified in Columbus on behalf of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact. The compact, ratified by Congress and signed into law by Mr. Bush this fall, was written to help close loopholes so that the water stays within the region.



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