Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Chu Stresses Change of Focus at Energy Department

Jan. 13, 2009 – 1:40 p.m.

Physicist Steven Chu, President-elect Barack Obama ’s nominee to be Energy secretary, Tuesday said his leadership would focus on tackling climate change and encouraging renewable energy technologies.

“Renewable energy is something we really have to work on as quickly as possible . . . It will be my primary goal as secretary to make the Department of Energy a leader in these critical efforts,” Chu, a Nobel Prize winner and director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, told members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee at his confirmation hearing.

Chu’s comments signaled a major shift in the department’s traditional portfolio, which has primarily centered on nuclear weapons and nuclear science programs. It’s also likely to elevate what has long been viewed in Washington as a second-tier agency into a leading entity in realizing the energy and climate goals Obama says will be among his top priorities.

“There was a period when there was very little interest in the government and general public on energy . . . now there’s a great deal of interest on all sides. Dr. Chu’s nomination comes at a pivotal time in the department’s history,” panel Chairman Jeff Bingaman , D-N.M., said.

Republicans and Democrats both praised Chu and said they expected the Senate to confirm him. Bingaman said he hopes to have a confirmation vote Jan. 20, after Obama is inaugurated.

Lawmakers also pressed Chu on his views on the future of coal and nuclear power, particularly in light of a 2007 comment he made saying that burning coal to generate power is an environmental “nightmare.”

Chu offered assurances that under his leadership, the Energy Department would invest heavily in researching so-called “clean coal” technology, which captures and sequesters carbon emissions, and in reprocessing and recycling nuclear waste, although he did not go into detail.

“Coal and nuclear form the baseload of electricity today. It cannot happen overnight, the nurturing of renewable resources. I think we need all the solutions, we need to make them as clean as possible as quickly as possible,” he said.

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