- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2009

New Chu can’t win

Steven Chu has had a rough time readjusting from energy technology leader to national energy policy (and politics) leader in the past three weeks.

On a conference call with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, energy magnate T. Boone Pickens and Obama adviser John D. Podesta, reporters couldn’t help but pick on the new “kid” in town: Mr. Chu.

Three consecutive questions for the new energy secretary left him pleading for relief.

“Well I hope the press will pick someone else other than me,” Mr. Chu said … to no avail.

The fourth questioner apologized before asking Mr. Chu a question.

The next day, Mr. Chu braved a conference room packed with reporters at Platts Energy in Washington, fielding many questions about the price of oil and what he would do to negotiate with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries

“Actually, I have to look into this,” Mr. Chu said as he took a shot at answering a question about replenishing the nation’s strategic oil reserve. Then he stopped midsentence and turned the tables.

“Actually, I have a question for all of you … I feel like I’ve jumped in the deep end of the pool,” said the Nobel laureate, who is more proficient in the science of energy than the politics of power. The earnest remark won laughs from the crowd of political reporters.

It’s all good

Who would have guessed that environmental concerns finally would drive together business and labor leaders?

Andy Stern of the Service Employees International Union and John Sweeney of the AFL-CIO sat down Monday with Lee Scott, who was president of Wal-Mart until earlier this month, as part of a wide-ranging discussion with top Democrats on developing more clean energy sources.

Speaking during a round-table on clean energy, Mr. Scott said he thinks consumers will gladly buy environmentally friendly products as long as doing so doesn’t break the bank.

For his company’s part - he still serves on Wal-Mart’s corporate board - Mr. Scott said it is retrofitting trucks to run on a blend of gasoline and frying grease.

“You’ll be able to eat fried chicken and save the environment,” he said.

Mr. Stern has blasted Wal-Mart in the past for paying low wages and not providing employee health care plans, but that criticism has lightened in the past year. Yesterday, the union leader sounded positively flattering.

“You have to give Wal-Mart some credit for the work it’s done on the environment,” Mr. Stern said after the conference.

The biggest surprise may have been that building renewable energy projects and saving the environment, a fringe concept just a few years ago by Sierra Club President Carl Pope’s admission, would be the issue to bring together such disparate factions.

“Prior to 2006, those of us who spoke about this were relegated to the ‘free speech zones’ at the national conventions,” Mr. Pope said. Free speech zones typically have been set up at large political events to box in protesters and activists.

The hr file

James L. Connaughton, the chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality for all eight years of the Bush administration, heads to Constellation Energy to direct the company’s environmental and energy policy work as well as its lobbying priorities.

The energy lobbying firm Bracewell & Giuliani also scavenged the ranks of former administrations, both public and private, to add to its team of energy experts.

Mike Olsen, a former official at the Department of the Interior; David Perlman, former lead counsel at Lehman Brothers; and Salo Zelermyer, a former lawyer at the Energy Department, all joined up with the energy lobbying firm this month.

The three join an energy team that includes former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Jeff Holmstead and former Rep. Jim Chapman, Texas Democrat.

Also, Kevin Book, an energy analyst whose sharp and occasionally irreverent congressional testimony has made him a favorite among congressional staffers and industry lobbyists, departed Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group on Monday. No word yet where he’s headed.

Tom LoBianco can be reached at tlobianco@washingtontimes.com.

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