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Rep. Jay Inslee Would Make a Fine Pick for Energy Secretary

12/11/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

With the election now (mercifully) over and an Obama administration set to take office in a little over two months, it's time to start seriously thinking about the men and women the president-elect will choose to guide his important decisions. The faltering economy, and the man who will be leading the efforts to resuscitate it (widely tipped at the moment to be either former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers or the CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Timothy Geithner), may have dominated recent headlines, but, if you take Barack Obama at his word, energy will be his administration's next big focus.

Already the mainstream media and blogosphere are awash with rumors and speculation as to who President Obama's pick will be. Some of the names tossed about include Dan Reicher, the director of climate change and energy initiatives at Google.org (Google's philanthropic arm) and a former assistant energy secretary under President Clinton, Jason Grumet, the executive director of the National Commission on Energy Policy (and a top adviser to the Obama campaign), Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), the chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. If the president-elect wants to highlight the national security or business dimensions of energy, he could select from a list of lesser-known candidates, such as retired General James L. Jones, who has been advocating for clean energy on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, or one of many utility executives (especially if he wants to balance his cabinet with more Republicans).

I do not doubt that most of these individuals would do a perfectly adequate job as energy secretary (with some clearly doing better than others). However, the urgency of the situation makes the selection of a more knowledgeable and experienced set of hands necessary. One name that I seen mentioned in passing that I think would fit the bill perfectly is Rep. Jay Inslee.

Inslee, a progressive Democrat who represents Washington's first congressional district, has long been an ardent advocate for clean, renewable energy technologies. He was one of the first to propose a comprehensive energy reform package, dubbed the New Apollo Project, aimed at weaning the U.S. off our oil dependence in a 2002 column he penned for The Seattle Times. (In it, he articulates a vision for a bold plan similar in scope to the Apollo space program -- hence the name.)

Though a bit dated, it still perfectly captures the essence of Obama's ambitious energy agenda: calling for a "unified and highly prioritized national program to fulfill America's destiny of leading the world to a new clean energy future" by using government funds and entrepreneurial ingenuity to "jump-start the technologies that are close to providing market-based power."

In 2005, he introduced the New Apollo Energy Act, which, among other things, called for $49 billion in government loan guarantees for the construction of renewable energy facilities, a cap-and-trade program and stronger fuel efficiency measures. He further fleshed out his ideas and philosophy in "Apollo's Fire: Igniting America's Clean Energy Economy," an excellent primer on the subject that he co-authored with Bracken Hendricks, a member of the clean energy-focused Apollo Alliance.

Unlike most politicians who profess themselves to be fans of a "green economy" and clean energy technologies (many of which did so because it became politically convenient), Rep. Inslee evinces a remarkable knowledge of and interest in the topic. In interview after interview that I've read/heard (this Mother Jones interview is particularly insightful), he consistently demonstrates a nuanced understanding of the challenges and opportunities that we face and is not one to shirk away from making the tough calls. (As an added bonus, he calls improved energy efficiency, often dismissed as a half measure, the "most promising new energy source.")

While there are several other individuals that, based solely on the strength of their scientific and business pedigrees, I believe could do well in the position -- Amory Lovins, chairman of the Rocky Mountain Institute, or Dan Kammen, the chair of UC Berkeley's Energy and Resources Group, to name a few (and, while I'm still dreaming, Al Gore) -- few combine the depth of knowledge and (crucial) Washington know-how that would be needed to help guide the president's proposals. After the joke that was the Bush administration's "clean" energy proposals, we desperately need a skilled set of hands to carry out President Obama's far-reaching agenda.