Nancy Sutley ’84 has a passion for the environment honed far above Cayuga’s waters. Now, the current deputy mayor of Los Angeles for energy and the environment is bringing her political acumen and progressive mindset to the executive office as President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Sutley’s experiences in the Golden State will serve her well. California has been at the forefront in the era of greater emphasis on environmental protection, especially with its mandate for low-emission vehicles. Los Angeles has been especially tendentious in its push for environmental sustainability, due to the city’s vulnerability to smog and air pollution. The Los Angeles projects goals of being the “Greenest Big City” in the country.
“California has always been the leader in the 50 states on green matters,” said Prof. Theodore Lowi, government. “They’ve been vilified by setting expectations in other states.”
Sutley’s appointment has particularly drawn praise from the political left. Her experience in environmental policy also includes work on the California State Water Resources Control Board from 2003 to 2005. During Sutley’s tenure, the board developed statewide water protection plans, established water quality standards and implemented state and federal water quality laws. Additionally, she was energy adviser to Gov. Gray Davis (D-Calif.), and deputy secretary for policy and intergovernmental relations within the California Environmental Protection Agency.
“The Sierra Club praises the appointment of Nancy Sutley to direct the White House Council on Environmental Quality for her environmental values, experience and knowledge,” a Sierra Club press release stated on Dec. 11, 2008. “With her EPA and California experience working on energy, water and other environment issues, Deputy Mayor Sutley is well-equipped to carry out President-elect Obama’s clean energy agenda.”
Sutley’s appointment is also a significant edifier of the Obama camp’s promise for diversity. Sutley, an out lesbian, is an experienced advocate for equal rights for homosexuals. During the Democratic primaries, Sutley was on Sen. Hilary Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) California Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Steering Committee. Sutley is the first openly gay member to be named to a major position in Obama’s administration. However, there are predictions that her sexuality, mixed with the hot topic issue of the environment, may leave her open to the vitriol of the media and political pundits.
“To be a survivor as head of the [L.A. environment policies], she’ll hit the ground running,” Lowi said. “She’s likely to be more in the line of fire than any of the appointments [Obama’s] made yet.”
One of Sutley’s major roles as part of Obama’s small transition team is to review the work of the Environmental Protection Agency. Under administrator Stephen Johnson and the Bush administration, there has been a consistent usurpation of power from the EPA. In particular, the EPA has been criticized for refusing to allow California and 16 other states to raise fuel economy standards for new cars, and there has been evidence of skewed findings in EPA reports.
“Under the present administration, there’s been all sorts of loosening of regulations,” said Prof. Joel Silbey, government. “My presumption is that Obama is going to be more defensive of the environment.”
The Council on Environmental Quality works with the president on domestic and international environmental policies, as well as manages federal agencies to work in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act. With the complexity and breadth of the nation’s environmental problems, Sutley has her work cut out for her.
“Today’s environmental issues are incredibly complex and solutions must address economic, scientific, policy and political factors,” said Warner Chabot, incoming CEO of the California League of Conservation Voters, which is the nation’s oldest grassroots environmental political action organization. “Nancy has a comprehensive understanding of every aspect of this debate and will be a powerful leader for the Council on Environmental Quality.”