Obama names agriculture, interior ministers

December 18th, 2008 - 8:31 am ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaWashington, Dec 18 (DPA) President-elect Barack Obama has named his cabinet picks for the agriculture and interior departments, who will lead an effort over the coming years to use domestic resources to wean the US off its dependence on foreign oil.Racing to complete his cabinet before the end of December, Obama Wednesday named Colorado Senator Ken Salazar to head the Department of the Interior, while former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack was tapped for the Department of Agriculture.

Obama has vowed a new focus on energy and climate issues when he takes office Jan 20, and unveiled the rest of his environmental team earlier Monday. He has said five million “green jobs” can be created by boosting investment in renewable energy.

Agriculture has taken on a new role as a renewable energy provider in the past few years. Vilsack, who made an abbreviated run for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, has been a strong supporter of ethanol-based petrol made from maize and produced in much of the Midwest.

The fuel is part of US plans to become more energy independent but has drawn criticism from other parts of the world for driving up the price of maize, a key food staple.

“The solution to our energy crisis will be found not in oil fields abroad but in our farm fields here at home,” Obama said.

Obama, who will take charge in the middle of two wars and an economy in recession, has moved much faster than recent presidents in picking his cabinet and top White House advisors.

Most of his foreign policy and economic team is already in place. On Tuesday he named Arne Duncan, a long-time friend who heads Chicago’s school system, to be education secretary.

Salazar will become the second Hispanic official in Obama’s cabinet, after New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson was named commerce secretary.

The Interior Department watches over federally-owned land and monitors the use of natural resources, but has a more limited role than in most countries. The department does not manage law enforcement.

Obama’s top picks to lead his energy and climate policy were named Monday to wide acclaim by the environmental community.

Steven Chu, a Nobel-prize winning physicist and expert on alternative energy, will lead the Department of Energy. Carol Browner, the country’s environmental chief under former president Bill Clinton, will head a new White House office coordinating energy and climate policy.

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