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Vacancies Leave Obama's Environmental Agenda Unclear

With yesterday's announcement that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will soon step down, the three top environmental posts in the federal government are waiting to be filled. The vacancies are further muddling the administration's second term agenda.
January 17, 2013, 12pm PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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The vacancies at the top of the Interior Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will likely add to the questions surrounding Obama’s commitment to dealing with climate change and other environmental problems in his second term. And to compound matters, says Juliet Eilperin, "the administration has a limited amount of time to press a second-term environmental agenda before the next election cycle begins."

However, the vacancies are allowing environmental activists and business interests to project their wishes for Obama's second term on the empty desks in D.C.

"Activists say they are optimistic that President Obama can pursue some ambitious environmental policy goals," writes Eilperin. “This clearly doesn’t reach the level of gun control or immigration, but I feel it’s on the table in a way it wasn’t in the first term,” said William Meadows, counselor to The Wilderness Society.

"By contrast, American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard said a new slate of agency heads could 'adjust some of the more extreme positions taken early on' during the administration. 'The potential is there for a reset button, to turn the focus to job growth and economic recovery,' he said."

"Obama’s environmental legacy is likely to be defined by how he handles climate change issues — including whether to permit the Keystone XL pipeline extension or impose carbon limits on existing power plants," says Eilperin. "His choices to head the three agencies also will affect decisions ranging from what kind of offshore drilling will take place in the Arctic to whether gold mining can proceed in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed."

"White House spokesman Clark Stevens reiterated Obama’s intention to tackle climate change, calling it 'among his top priorities in his second term' along with 'enhancing energy security.'”

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Published on Wednesday, January 16, 2013 in The Washington Post
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