Commerce chief to make clean energy a priority

By Ariel Tung and Tan Yingzi (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-06-25 09:53
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NEW YORK / WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama's selection of John Bryson, a former utility executive from southern California, as commerce secretary, highlights the White House's desire to develop clean and renewable energy industries in the United States and foster a stronger partnership with China in the energy sector, experts said.

"China has been surging ahead on clean energy with the understanding that investments in the energy sector will lead to economic prosperity. I think the US can really learn from this," said Rebecca Lefton, policy analyst at the Center for American Progress.

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Lefton added that the US is in danger of losing its competitive edge because of its lack of clean energy policies.

In selecting Bryson, 67, Obama chose a private sector executive who has the support of the US business community and helped lead Edison International as CEO for 18 years to the top of the solar and wind-power industries. Bryson's selection is subject to Senate confirmation.

It is his expertise in the clean energy sector that Obama noted when he nominated Bryson. Obama added that the development of clean and renewable energy will help improve the competitiveness of US exports.

Lefton said Sino-US cooperation on clean energy benefits both countries.

"There is a great relationship that has already been developed on clean energy, and we hope it will continue to develop. It's really important to watch how these two countries will work together," Lefton said.

That relationship was jumpstarted by a 2009 meeting between Obama and President Hu Jintao, when they signed a joint statement recognizing the importance for both economies to transition to green and low-carbon energy.

In January, the two leaders coordinated numerous deals worth more than $45 billion between US and Chinese energy companies.

Lefton said these deals are a positive step, but that the US needs to strengthen and enact clean energy policies.

"The Obama administration's goal is for Bryson to engage and stimulate the private sector to move. We've got a very good candidate. It's good news for the US, China and the low-carbon economy," said David Burwell, director of the Energy and Climate Program at the Carnegie Endowment.

Joe Romm, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said energy cooperation between China and the US is very important.

"The US and China are the biggest energy users. We are the biggest generators of greenhouse gases, so we have an obligation to employ clean energy technologies," Romm said.

In talks with China about energy, the Obama administration has emphasized fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

Kyle Ash, senior legislative representative of Greenpeace USA, said Bryson can help the Obama administration's priorities in energy cooperation become "more in line with Obama's professed goal that US energy both cost and pollute less".

On the other hand, a new nominee will not be able to make a raft of changes to US development, said Ge Yong at the Institute for Environment and Development, a Beijing-based non-governmental organization.

"The new commerce secretary has the same mission as his predecessor Gary Locke in creating jobs, expanding imports and improving the US' competitive edge, so the nation's economic and trade strategies will largely stay consistent," said Huo Jianguo, president of the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation under the Ministry of Commerce.

But usually a leader from the business sector is inclined to adopt a more pragmatic and negotiable means of solving problems, he said, adding that Bryson's professional background in the energy industry may serve as an advantage in promoting cooperation between China and the US.

Bryson's predecessor, Locke, is just a step away from being the first Chinese-American to serve as ambassador to China after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted unanimously on Thursday to approve his nomination.

According to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office, the Senate vote has not been scheduled yet.

Locke, who is not a Chinese speaker, is now studying the language while waiting for the confirmation so he will be a better communicator.

Before becoming commerce secretary in 2009, he served as governor of the State of Washington from 1997 to 2005 and successfully doubled its exports to China.

Cheng Guangjin, Meng Jing and Lan Lan contributed to this story.