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Was Carol Browner Another "Wind Dummy"?

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorJanuary 25, 2011 6:56 PM


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In 2003, Christine Todd Whitman resigned as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). She lasted two years. In the Washington Post, a top EPA official--who had resigned a year earlier--lamented:

Christine Todd Whitman's tenure at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ended last month much the way it began, amid controversy over the Bush administration's unwillingness to craft an effective response to global warming.

During Whitman's stormy two-year tenure, Colin Powell, another moderate Republican in an Administration dominated by conservatives, called Whitman (who came with widely lauded green credentials and a belief that global warming was real) a wind dummy. (It was this kind of incident that likely contributed to Whitman's decision to finally call it quits.) She would later tell PBS Frontline:

Colin and I each at different times felt we were sort of out there and not exactly in sync with all the thinking that was going on.

Fast forward to 2011 and it's hard not see some striking similarities in the news that Carol Browner (Whitman's predecessor at the EPA) is leaving her job as President Obama's top energy and environmental adviser. She too only lasted two years. AP writes:

The departure of Carol Browner underscores that there will be no major White House push on climate change, given that such efforts have little chance of succeeding on Capitol Hill.

That the announcement comes on the eve of a State of the Union address unnerves some in Congress, reports Politico:

"This does strike me as a quiet kill, so to speak," said a House Democratic aide who works on energy and environmental issues, including the 2009 cap-and-trade bill. "If there were a sacrificial lamb, it could have been on health care, financial issues, on a whole number of other things. But it's the climate czar that's going down. "I don't know the exact circumstances of it, but the circumstantial evidence, I think the timing is frankly fairly frightening," the staffer added.

In the irony department, there's also this, as reported by NPR:

Browner's office recently had come under scrutiny for politicizing the response to the Gulf oil spill. The commission set up by Obama to investigate the disaster said Browner misconstrued on national television the findings of a federal scientific report by saying most of the oil was gone. The White House later said she misspoke. Browner's office also has been criticized by the presidential panel for editing an Interior Department document in a manner that implied scientists supported the administration's decision to place a moratorium on deep water drilling. The commission found no evidence that the change made was intentional, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar later apologized for the misunderstanding.

When you add it all up, it seems reasonable to ask: Did Browner, like Whitman almost a decade earlier, see the handwriting on the wall and head for the exits?

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