Before the financial crisis took over the public debate this fall, Americans were up in arms as gas prices soared above $4 per gallon. The economy‘s steep decline has now sent gas prices tumbling below $2 per gallon in many areas. But Obama, in a recent interview with CBS‘ "60 Minutes," said falling gas prices shouldn‘t reduce the urgency for action. "This has been our pattern: We go from shock to trance," he said. "You know, oil prices go up, gas prices at the pump go up, everybody goes into a flurry of activity. And then the prices go back down and suddenly we act like it‘s not important, and we start, you know, filling up our SUVs again."
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Obama‘s first step will be to name an energy secretary in the next few weeks. Names on his list include Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius; Dan Reicher, a former assistant energy secretary in the Clinton administration who directs energy and climate initiatives for Google.org; and Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Schwarzenegger would be a splashy pick, but he‘s said he plans to finish his term.
Obama is considering creating an energy council within the White House, much like the National Economic Council. He has asked former EPA administrator Carol Browner to lead his transition team on energy and the environment. The economic stimulus plan could offer Obama a chance to make an early mark on energy: It is expected to include a multibillion-dollar investment in a "smart grid," upgrading the nation‘s electrical transmission system to boost energy efficiency while also creating new jobs.
After passing the stimulus package, Obama and Democrats in Congress plan to take up an energy bill packed with initiatives that Republicans have blocked, including a requirement that electric utilities get more of their power from wind, and solar and tighter regulation of energy markets. "When you can get a combination of White House leadership and bipartisan congressional engagement, chances of real progress are substantial," said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
A thorny issue for Obama will be whether the energy bill he backs will allow more offshore drilling. Environmentalists want to curtail drilling, but Obama said during the campaign that he could support some new offshore production as part of a comprehensive energy plan.