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James L. Jones' energy views worry some environmentalists
James L. Jones is Obama's new national security advisor. But he leads an institute that has challenged global warming.
By Tom Hamburger, LA Times
Reporting from Washington — When President-elect Barack Obama introduced James L. Jones Jr. as his national security advisor Monday, he emphasized the retired Marine general's understanding of "the connection between energy and national security."
Obama sees that as a plus, but some environmental groups and global warming activists view Jones' environmental record with suspicion.
Jones will not be responsible for environmental policy, but he has said energy is a vital national security issue. It affects domestic economic stability and international geopolitical relationships, particularly in the oil-rich Middle East.
Jones sits on the board of Chevron Corp., and since March 2007 has been president and chief executive of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy, which has been criticized by environmental groups.
"They have a reprehensible record," said Frank O'Donnell, the outspoken leader of Clean Air Watch, of the institute led by Jones.
The institute calls for the immediate expansion of domestic oil and gas production, nuclear energy and clean-coal technology, in addition to investment in renewable and alternative energy sources.
O'Donnell criticized institute reports under Jones that challenged the use of the Clean Air Act to combat global warming and the right of states, such as California, to impose environmental standards that go beyond those set by the federal government.
"Since global warming is a security threat, this selection raises a real eyebrow," O'Donnell said in an e-mail. "Will Jones be predisposed to compromise the new administration's environmental agenda, both at home and in the international arena? . . . Stay tuned."
O'Donnell said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had "the worst track record" of any business advocacy group when it came to global warming.
Chamber officials dismissed concerns that they represented extreme pro-industry views on climate change.
"If you look at our reports, one thing you will see is balance," said David Chavern, the chamber's chief operating officer. "The general is a balanced, rational guy. That will serve him well as national security advisor."
The nonprofit institute is an arm of the chamber, the country's leading business lobby. Chamber officials declined to reveal the budget or who finances the institute.
Today, an institute executive will hold a chamber-sponsored discussion about global warming featuring Lawrence Solomon, the author of a book questioning whether there is a scientific consensus on climate change.
The book, "The Deniers," will be the subject of a teleconference, which will include a scientist from the Pew Center on Global Climate Change taking the opposite view. The discussion will be moderated by Stephen Eule, who works with Jones at the institute.
Many environmental advocates contacted Monday were reluctant to discuss Obama's selection of Jones. Previously, environmental scientists from the Natural Resources Defense Council and other organizations have knocked the chamber and the institute. The chamber opposed global warming legislation backed by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and John W. Warner (R-VA).
Daniel Lashof, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's climate center, said Monday that in its official statements "the institute failed to make a clear call for action on global warming." But he said Obama had "made such a call, so I am not concerned that Obama is going to change his position on that."
In a "transition plan for securing America's energy future" prepared for Obama, the institute called for laws that would promote nuclear power, encourage drilling on federal land and offshore areas under a moratorium. The report also called for Congress to make clear that the Clean Air Act would not be used to regulate greenhouse gases, and to make sure that federal rules preempted state regulations, a long-standing position among business organizations.
Those two points were of some concern to California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, who coincidentally urged the Environmental Protection Agency on Monday to use the Clean Air Act to take action against global warming.
"After eight years of foot-dragging, it is time for the EPA to reverse its shameful inaction on global warming and use its authority under the Clean Air Act to combat dangerous climate change," Brown said in a letter to the EPA.
In an interview, Brown said the appointment of a chief executive of an organization that opposed his viewpoints was not terribly concerning.
"You want to have talent and wisdom among your advisors, and [Jones] is bringing some key qualities" to the Obama administration, he said. Still, "the federal government has been a laggard for decades, and the last thing we want to do is destroy the innovative contributions of states like California. The labs of the state innovate often in the face of congressional paralysis."
In a speech last fall introducing an institute report, Jones acknowledged the conflicts that emerged when energy policies were set.
"Energy is a vital national security issue," he said in remarks posted on the institute's website. "Every industry, think tank and advocacy group has its interest, but everyone is going to have to step back and look at the bigger picture. The institute believes that an affordable, diverse and secure energy supply is fundamental to our security and to the expansion of economic opportunity and prosperity. We are equally convinced that this energy can be secured while making further progress in the fight for environmental quality and significant contributions to the management of climate change."
Asked about the concerns expressed by environmental advocates, an Obama spokesman referred to the president-elect's statements at the Monday news conference introducing Jones and other members of the national security team.
"I assembled this team because I'm a strong believer in strong personalities and strong opinions," Obama said. "I think that's how the best decisions are made. One of the dangers in a White House, based on my reading of history, is that you get wrapped up in group think, and everybody agrees with everything and there's no discussion and there are no dissenting views. So I'm going to be welcoming a vigorous debate inside the White House. But understand, I will be setting policy as president."
Hamburger is a writer in our Washington bureau.