Policy experts question Obama energy pick Chu

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Steve Chu escaped controversy during his tenure as director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory since 2004 and is widely respected among his peers, but some are questioning the effectiveness of President-elect Barack Obama’s choice to head the Energy Department.

Richard R. Burt, former chief negotiator in the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks and ambassador to Germany, praised Mr. Chu as a solid pick after a meeting Thursday with reporters and editors at The Washington Times.

“By all accounts, he is an enormously knowledgeable and talented individual who understands the science as well as the politics of energy,” Mr. Burt said.

But Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said that while Mr. Chu is “very well qualified,” he fears the agency will continue to subsidize renewable energy alternatives like solar panels and windmills rather than creating new technology that is competitive and sustainable on its own.

“I think [Mr. Chu] is an indication that Obama really is committed to pursing renewable energy, which the Energy Department has been subsidizing and researching for 30 years. It’s a boondoggle. But these technologies are not competitive, and all of the subsidies and taxpayer government monies are really an impediment to making products competitive,” Mr. Ebell said.

“He is going to be doing a lot of the wrong things as secretary, but he will be doing it because that is what his president wants him to do,” Mr. Ebell said. “I fear there will be billions and billions and billions of dollars wasted on corporate welfare for special interests.”

The Energy Department’s mission is to create energy security, promote technological advancement and oversea cleanups of national nuclear weapons complexes. Mr. Chu’s chief job will be to promote America’s energy security through reliable, clean and affordable energy but, more important, renewable energy.

Mr. Obama is expected to announce his energy and environmental team next week, including Carol M. Browner, former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief as the key White House official on climate and energy policy; Nancy Sutley, Los Angeles deputy mayor to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality; and Lisa P. Jackson, New Jersey’s commissioner of environmental protections to lead the EPA.

Christie Todd Whitman, former EPA chief, told MSNBC she had concerns about Mr. Chu’s management experience.

“He’s certainly going to know how to analyze the issues,” she said. “He’s going to know the feasibility as he looks at them from a scientific point of view. But it’s going to be the ‘Can they be implemented?’ part of it that will be a challenge for him.

“It’s a big leap from the academic world to the administrative world,” Mrs. Whitman said.

However, Spencer Abraham, who served as President Bush’s energy secretary from 2001 to 2005, said he had the chance to observe Mr. Chu as director of the California laboratory.

“He is an outstanding leader and scientist and therefore an excellent nominee who deserves broad support from the Senate during his upcoming confirmation,” Mr. Abraham said.

While its sister lab in Livermore, Calif., has experienced controversies concerning security gaps at the nuclear weapons complex, and workers unknowingly exposed to beryllium dust, the lab at Berkeley has received positive accolades during his tenure and Mr. Chu’s efforts to develop zero-carbon energy sources.

According to his biography, posted on the lab’s Web page, Mr. Chu was an early advocate for finding scientific solutions to climate change and he guided the lab to become a leader in alternative and renewable energy research, particularly the development of carbon-neutral sources of energy.

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