CHICAGO (Reuters) - President-elect Barack Obama’s team to address climate change emerged on Wednesday as Democratic officials said he had chosen a Nobel laureate for U.S. energy secretary and was likely to pick an environmental veteran to serve as coordinator of climate policies.
Rounding out his cabinet, Obama planned to announce at a Chicago news conference on Thursday that former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, would lead efforts to improve the U.S. health care system as the secretary of Health and Human Services.
Simmering in the background is the scandal involving Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was arrested on Tuesday and charged with attempting to sell the U.S. Senate seat that Obama had held until he was elected president on November 4.
Obama on Wednesday called on Blagojevich to resign and has sought to distance himself from the disgraced governor.
Announcements to come in the days ahead include several key environment-related appointments — Steven Chu as energy secretary, Carol Browner as energy and climate coordinator, Nancy Sutley to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Lisa Jackson to run the Environmental Protection Agency.
They will be charged with developing policies to reduce carbon emissions blamed for global warming, develop new sources of energy and create new jobs — a top priority for Obama.
Chu is director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and shared the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics. He was an early advocate for scientific solutions to climate change.
Browner was administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton administration. A principal at global strategy firm The Albright Group LLC, she heads Obama’s advisory team on energy and the environment.
Sutley has a long history in the environmental community. She is currently deputy mayor for energy and environment for Los Angeles and served on the California State Water Resources Control Board earlier this decade.
Jackson has served as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection in New Jersey.
A big challenge for Obama and Daschle will be extending health insurance coverage to millions of uninsured Americans and determining whether to reshape a system that is currently employer-based.
Close to 46 million Americans have no health insurance, and Americans are more likely to die of common diseases than people living in many other developed countries.
Daschle has already been involved in considering ways to improve the system. Obama’s transition team in the second half of this month will hold a series of meetings across the country to discuss ways to change the way health care is delivered.
During the campaign, Obama pledged to bring health insurance to millions of uninsured Americans and spend about $50 billion to make U.S. health records electronic.
“If you look at the glide path that we are on with respect to health care spending and a whole host of other areas, we’ve got some big problems,” Obama told the Chicago Tribune in an interview published on Wednesday.
In that interview, Obama also said that at some point he would like to give a speech from an Islamic capital as a way to help “reboot America’s image around the world and also in the Muslim world in particular.”
And, he said when he takes the oath of office on January 20 on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington he will use all three of his names — Barack Hussein Obama — because that is the tradition for the swearing-in ceremony.
Some Republicans had used his middle name during the presidential campaign to suggest Obama was a Muslim, which he is not.
Writing by Steve Holland; Editing by David Alexander and Cynthia Osterman