miércoles, diciembre 17, 2008

Obama to announce education secretary

Obama to announce education secretary

WASHINGTON - President-elect Barack Obama intends to name a big-city schools chief to help fix the country's ailing schools as education secretary, a day after announcing an environmental and energy team he said signaled his determination to tackle global warming quickly.

President-elect Barack Obama intends to name a big-city schools chief to help fix the country's ailing schools as education secretary, a day after announcing an environmental and energy team he said signaled his determination to tackle global warming quickly.

People familiar with the decision said Obama had chosen Chicago's Arne Duncan as education secretary. Duncan has run the country's third-biggest school district since 2001, pushing to boost teacher quality and to improve struggling schools and closing those that fail. Student test scores have risen significantly during Duncan's tenure.

One of the schools Duncan turned around Dodge Renaissance Academy, which he shut and then reopened on Chicago's West Side was chosen as the backdrop for Obama's announcement Tuesday.

The individuals who confirmed the selection of Duncan on Monday spoke on condition of anonymity because Obama had not made the decision public.

Earlier Monday. Obama named his environmental and energy team, vowing to "move beyond our oil addiction and create a new hybrid economy."

Obama selected Nobel-prize winning physicist Steven Chu as energy secretary and Carol Browner, a confidante of former Vice President Al Gore, to lead a White House council on energy and climate. Browner, 53, headed the Environmental Protection Agency in the Clinton administration.

Separately, an Obama transition official said Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar will be named Interior Secretary later this week, rounding out the environment and energy team.

Chu, 60, is director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, and is a leading advocate of reducing greenhouse gases by developing new energy sources.

The selection of Chu, a Chinese American who shared a Nobel Prize for physics in 1997, received widespread praise on Capitol Hill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said he looked forward to "confirming Dr. Chu as quickly as possible."

"His appointment should send a signal to all that my administration will value science. We will make decisions based on the facts, and we understand that facts demand bold action," Obama said at a news conference in Chicago.

Obama also announced his choice of Lisa Jackson, former head of New Jersey's environmental agency, as EPA administrator.

Obama made clear he plans take energy policy in a sharply different direction from President George W. Bush, promising aggressive moves to address global warming and support research into alternative energy sources such as wind, solar and biofuels.

"America must develop new forms of energy and new ways of using it," he said.

Obama said the dangers of being too heavily dependent on foreign oil "are eclipsed only by the long-term threat of climate change which, unless we act, will lead to drought and famine abroad, devastating weather patterns and terrible storms on our shores, and disappearance of our coastline at home."

He rejected the notion that economic development and environmental protection cannot go hand in hand.

"We can spark the dynamism of our economy through a long-term investment in renewable energy that will give life to new businesses and industries with good jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced," he said.

"We'll make public buildings more efficient, modernize our electricity grid, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while protecting and preserving our natural resources. We must also recognize that the solution to global climate change must be global."

Salazar is a first-term Colorado Senator who has established a name for himself on public lands and energy resources issues. He headed the Colorado Natural Resources Department from 1990 through 1994. The Interior Department has broad oversight over US energy resources and environment. It oversees oil and gas drilling on public lands and manages US parks and wildlife refuges.

Salazar is expected to balance the protection of natural resources while tapping the nation's energy potential - an approach that Obama has said he wants .

Salazar, 53, opposed drilling in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge and objected to the Bush administration's efforts to lease Western lands for oil shale development. It will be up to the Obama administration whether or not to go ahead with leasing.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which must confirm the education nominee, called Duncan a consensus candidate.

"Arne has been a pragmatic and effective leader of Chicago's schools," the Massachusetts Democrat said in a written statement. "He's brought people together to address difficult challenges and expand opportunities so that every child can succeed."

A 44-year-old Harvard graduate, Duncan has played pickup basketball with Obama since the 1990s. Duncan co-captained the Harvard basketball team and played professionally in Australia before beginning his education career.

Obama has avoided taking sides in a contentious debate between reform advocates and teachers' unions, but Duncan may please the competing factions. Duncan's nomination will please reform advocates who wanted a big-city schools chief who has sought to hold schools and teachers accountable for student performance; while the teachers' unions have said Duncan seems willing to work with them.

Also Monday, the 538 Americans who voted in state capitols across the United States elected Obama president. The voting by the electors was a largely ceremonial procedure, but one mandated by the Constitution.

Obama defeated Republican Sen. John McCain in the November 4 election, but still the presidency is not his officially.

Under the convoluted electoral system devised by the drafters of the US Constitution 220 years ago, Obama's election will become official only on January 6, in Washington. That is when Congress meets in joint session to count the votes cast by the electors. Obama received 365 electoral votes, to 173 for McCain - well over the 270 electoral majority necessary for the presidency.

Obama takes office January 20, becoming the country's first black president. He is planning to leave soon for a more than week-long trip to Hawaii to celebrate the holidays and relax before his inauguration.

Inauguration organizers said Obama will kick off the celebration on January 17 , the weekend before his swearing in as the country's 44th president by traveling on a train to Washington.

Obama is retracing the journey of his political idol, Abraham Lincoln, who also rode to his swearing-in on a train from Philadelphia, making stops along the way.

"We hope to include as many Americans as possible who wish to participate, but can't be in Washington," Emmett Beliveau, the executive director of the Presidential Inaugural Committee, said in a statement.

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