POLITICS: White House

Ron Arnold: Obscure White House climate warrior wields vast powers

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Opinion,White House,Ron Arnold,Columnists,Environment,Energy Department,Climate Change

Who is Jon Powers? That's not a spoof on "Atlas Shrugged," which begins with "Who is John Galt?" -- but a serious question about one of the more obscure power brokers in the Executive Office of the President.

Powers is a former U.S. Army officer who was appointed last year by President Obama to a position with the improbable title of federal environmental executive.

It suggests a fantasy story -- perhaps "Lord of the Things" -- about a cunning warrior promoted to be nature's CEO. However, Powers' job is anything but a joke.

President Clinton created the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive in 1993, and Obama gave it the job of overseeing implementation of his 2009 executive order on federal sustainability and the GreenGov initiative.

Now the OFEE is the power center for an incredible labyrinth of administrative measures to improve environmental performance within the federal government.

Just connecting the dots in Powers' job is a task in itself: His OFEE is housed at the president's Council on Environmental Quality, but it's administered by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Powers also leads the interagency Steering Committee on Federal Sustainability, which includes a "sustainability officer" from every executive agency in the government.

Powers is responsible for monitoring progress on Obama's goals, advising both the CEQ chairman and the director of the Office of Management and Budget. Got that?

Obama's 2009 federal sustainability order tasked that bureaucratic maze with assuring that all new federal acquisitions of goods, services and buildings explicitly adhere to the Obama view of climate change and sustainability ideology -- particularly in manufacturing, design, utilities, transportation and supply chains -- exempting weapon systems and intelligence operations.

But why did Obama pick Powers?

Jonathan Powers -- he goes by Jon -- became an energy security believer during a 15-month Army tour in Iraq as a battalion commander's adjutant in Baghdad.

There his troops learned to reposition the fuel trucks in their compound just as daylight faded, then watch insurgent mortar fire blast the old position at night. The "importance of energy to our warfighters on the battlefield" transitioned with him to domestic politics.

Powers polished his considerable management talent -- commended by the military -- as chief operating officer at the Washington-based nonprofit Truman National Security Project (2010 revenue: $3.2 million), a left-wing institute that recruits, trains and positions progressives to spread the doctrine that global warming is a national security issue. Crazy?

In March, the Boston Globe ran this headline: "Chief of US Pacific forces calls climate biggest worry." Adm. Samuel Locklear, who we pay to worry about North Korea, told the Globe that rising sea levels from global warming might mean "You could have hundreds of thousands or millions of people displaced and then security will start to crumble pretty quickly."

Last year, then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta got headlines at a reception held by the Environmental Defense Fund to honor the Defense Department's clean energy efforts.

"Climate change has a dramatic impact on national security," Panetta said, adding that climate change would "raise demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief."

Just before coming to the White House, Powers served as special adviser on energy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment, presumably where his name came up for the environmental executive spot.

He has kept a low profile, but considering the vast federal procurement decisions he influences, Federal Environmental Executive Jon Powers deserves a brighter spotlight, if only to discourage more scandals like the current trio that have made this less than Obama's proudest hour, to be sure.

Washington Examiner Columnist Ron Arnold is executive vice president of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise.

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