Lesbian appointed to head Obama’s environmental team

With Inauguration Day a month away, President-elect Barack Obama continues to quickly build his new administration and last week appointed his first openly gay member.

Obama announced Dec. 16 that Nancy Sutley, the deputy mayor of Los Angeles for energy and the environment, will be the new chairperson of the White House Council on Environment Quality. Sutley is currently the highest-ranking openly gay official in the new administration.

Obama’s choice was met with praise from LGBT individuals and organizations across the country who had been eager to see a diverse presidential administration.

“President-elect Obama’s nomination of Nancy Sutley is another step toward full equality for gay Americans,” said Chuck Wolfe, president of the Gay & Lesbian Leadership Institute. “It sends a signal to young people that they can participate in their government at its highest levels, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender or ethnicity.”

Sutley, 46, comes to the position with a long record of environmental work.

She currently sits on the board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and from 2003-05 served on the California State Water Resources Control Board. From 1999-2003, Sutley was the deputy secretary for policy and intergovernmental relations at the California Environmental Protection Agency and the energy advisor to former California governor Gray Davis, and has served as the special assistant to former EPA director Carol Browner.

Sutley, who supported Hillary Clinton during the presidential primaries, served on the future secretary of state’s LGBT steering committee in California.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in government from Cornell University and a master’s in public policy from Harvard.

Obama also announced several other members of the Environment and Energy team this week and pledged to work with these individuals to steer the country away from the energy policies of President Bush. Obama said his administration would be committed to researching alternative energy sources like wind and biofuels.

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

During his announcement, Obama praised Sutley’s efforts and predicted that her experience and background would mesh well with the goals of the new administration.

“In recent years, we have seen states and cities take the initiative in forging innovative solutions on energy. Nancy has been at the cutting edge of this effort — working as a regional administrator for the EPA, at the state level in Sacramento and recently as the deputy mayor for energy and the environment in Los Angeles,” Obama said. “Now, she will bring this unique experience to Washington and be a key player in helping to make our government more efficient, and coordinating our efforts to protect our environment at home and around the globe.”

At present, there is one openly gay candidate in consideration for an Obama cabinet post.

The president-elect has not yet named a labor secretary, and Mary Beth Maxwell, the openly gay executive director of the pro-union group American Rights at Work, is included on the list of possible nominees. A decision is expected next week.

Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].