Just a month after keeping Bill McKibben and a group of environmentalists at arm’s length when they tried to convince the president to put solar panels on the White House, Energy Secretary Steven Chu yesterday announced that solar panels will be installed at presidential residence next year.

It’s clearly an effort to try to put some minimal substance to the lip service this administration has been giving to environmental concerns.

It’s a small step, to be sure, but at least it provides some useful symbolism. There’s some comparison with the vegetable garden Michelle Obama had planted at the White House. It was a nice thing to do, an opportunity for some good photo-ops with cute schoolchildren. I wonder how often she went out there for some weeding?

I’m a little bothered by the unnecessary snub of Bill McKibben and his group. It’s not as if he showed up at the White House unannounced asking for an appointment. The whole thing had been planned and announced ahead of time.

What is the administration trying to say here? On the one hand, energy-efficiency and alternative energy are good things, but it’s not good to be seen associating with environmentalists? What was he afraid of?