- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 14, 2009

President-elect Barack Obama’s choice to head the Energy Department told senators that developing “clean coal” technology must be a national priority, as a slew of Cabinet appointments sat for confirmation hearings Tuesday.

Steven Chu, Mr. Obama’s designated energy secretary, also said Congress should include offshore oil and gas production as part of a national energy plan. Democratic congressional leaders took sharp criticism from environmentalists last year after they allowed the offshore-drilling moratorium to expire.

“I think it is imperative to use coal as cleanly as possible,” Mr. Chu said at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The Obama team had a busy day on the hill, shepherding picks to lead the budget, as well as the Education and State departments, through confirmation hearings. They also were running defense on Treasury pick Timothy F. Geithner, after a Republican lawmaker asked about unpaid taxes and a former housekeeper, who had worked three months at Mr. Geithner’s house on an expired visa.

Budget director-designate Peter Orszag told members of the Senate Budget Committee to expect large deficits through much of the next decade. And Mr. Obama’s would-be schools chief, Arne Duncan, told senators he would work hard to expand educational opportunities through pre-kindergarten programs and college accessibility.

Both men are expected to win easy nods from the full Senate.

Mr. Obama’s choice for secretary of state, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, told her Senate colleagues she would use “smart power” in the international arena.

“We must use what has been called ‘smart power,’ the full range of tools at our disposal - diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal and cultural - picking the right tool, or combination of tools, for each situation,” the former first lady told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Mr. Chu is the first member of Mr. Obama’s energy and environment team to be questioned by lawmakers. Mr. Obama’s picks to head the Environmental Protection Agency and the Council on Environmental Quality go before senators Wednesday.

Sen. Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, suggested Mr. Obama’s energy “czar,” Carol M. Browner, come before the committee, too. Members of the White House staff, such as Ms. Browner are not required to be confirmed by the Senate.

Mr. Chu clarified previous remarks he had made that coal was his “worst nightmare,” saying that the nation will have to rely on coal power while it develops alternative energy sources and improves energy efficiency.

“It doesn’t mean that you stop everything today,” said Mr. Chu, drawing an analogy between the need for coal and nuclear energy, while the nation improves technology for cleaning and disposing of both sources. “It’s very much like coal,” he said. “We will be building some coal plants, and one doesn’t have a hard moratorium on something like that while we search for a way to capture carbon safely. It’s very analogous in my mind.”

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat, said he expects unanimous confirmation of Mr. Chu next week. The committee’s ranking Republican, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, also was broadly supportive of Mr. Chu’s nomination.

“Dr. Chu, I know you are keenly aware of the magnitude of the position for which you’re being considered,” Mrs. Murkowski said. “I commend you for agreeing to take this challenge.”

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