DOE nominee Chu in midst of confirmation hearings

by Kathleen Davis, senior editor

Tulsa, OK, Jan. 13, 2009 — Steven Chu, President-elect Obama’s choice for the next secretary of energy, wades through his confirmation hearing for the position today, weathering questions from Capitol Hill about his commitments, values and plans when it comes to America’s energy policy.

Members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee questioned Chu about a past comment labeling coal his “worst nightmare.” Chu noted that, if the world continues to use coal as it does today, we could all, globally, be a very bad situation—especially given the increasing use of the fuel in Russia, China and India. Chu noted, however, that he favors a look at companion technology to make coal cleaner rather than calling for the end of the coal era.

Keeping coal in the energy equation may be a traditional move, but Chu did push the idea of change in his remarks, even if that change may be a bit less dramatic than some critics expected with the new administration.

“It is now clear that if we continue on our current path, we run the risk of dramatic, disruptive changes to our climate in the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren,” he told the committee during the discussion of climate change.

Chu additionally pushed for a loan guarantee policy for nuclear energy, hoped for a place to store nuclear waste safely, revealed a commitment for cap-and-trade for greenhouse gases and cleaner energy in general, and promised to look at the possibilities of domestic oil exploration—though he chided a senator for pushing him to say he’d open shorelines to drilling. Instead, he noted that the U.S. had only a fraction of the world’s oil supply and stated that the “more efficient use of energy in the United States is the biggest factor that can reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”

Energy efficiency has been the theme of Chu’s hearing today. “This, in my mind, is the lowest hanging fruit,” he told the gathered senators.

Chu, a 1997 Nobel laureate, is currently the head of the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory.

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