Energy Wire

« Previous Post | Next Post »

Obama's Energy Department

Let the speculating begin. Not oil speculation, but job speculation for the new Obama administration.

Here's what I'm hearing, and thinking.

First, the Energy Department is an odd beast. Thirty six percent of its $25 billion budget is related to national security, dealing with nuclear materials from things like decommissioned nuclear weapons and naval reactors. Another 25 percent of its budget goes to environmental management and civilian nuclear waste management. Another sizable chunk goes to the national laboratories, over which the secretary exerts modest control at best. So it hasn't been the most sought-after cabinet post.

But, it could become more connected to actual energy issues because President-elect Obama wants to make a big research and development and subsidy push for carbon capture and storage, which would make coal use more palatable in an era of climate change worries. That would happen through the Energy Department. The Energy Department could also get more involved in pushing for renewable energy, such as geothermal. If there is a program to promote electric cars through some sort of infrastructure spending, then that might go to Energy (if it doesn't go the the Transportation Department). Finally, Obama wants to do more to promote energy efficiency and the Energy Department is the home for setting appliance standards and other energy efficiency goals.

People knowledgable about the transition are mentioning Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D), who would bring background as a coal state governor who has also promoted so-called green job creation (with the help of the head of his department of environmental protection, Kathleen McGinty, a former Gore environmental aide and former head of Clinton's Council on Environmental Quality). But to me it doesn't make sense. Rendell has a good job and could run for the Senate in 2010 when Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) comes up next.

Another possibility knowledgable people mention is Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash). Inslee, who has proposed legislation to promote clean energy called the New Apollo Energy Act. He has also co-written a book called "Apollo's Fire: Igniting America's Clean Energy Economy." In it, he advocates an ambitious program similar to the Apollo space program to reach a clean energy future. Obama has talked about just that sort of thing, including $150 billion in spending over the next decade.

Obama has also been interested in balancing his cabinet and reaching out to Republicans. I've heard that a Republican businessman, not a Republican politician, would be a possibility if Obama took that route.
While I haven't been told any names, Fred Smith, the chief executive of FedEx who has been outspoken about energy issues, would seem like one possibility. He has been an avid supporter of and major contributor to President Bush. He supports offshore drilling as part of an all-out push for domestic energy.

Obama could also choose to stress the national security dimensions of energy by picking a retired military officer. One possibility there might be retired Gen. James L. Jones, who has been active in promoting an energy plan on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. That might also assuage anxieties in the business community.

If Obama wants a business executive who isn't necessarily a Republican, he could consider any number of interesting utility executives because quite a few of them are very forward-looking about greenhouse gas emissions and upgrading the nation's anachronistic electricity grid. Again, I haven't heard any names but one possibility I think might be Jim Rogers, the ceo of Charlotte, N.C.-based Duke Energy. He would be interested in promoting a smart grid (useful in accomodating electric cars and facilitating conservation) and carbon capture and storage. He also supports new nuclear power plants. A former partner at Akin Gump, he knows his way around Washington.

Less prominent names but people with deep interest in energy issues (and perhaps interested in senior jobs other than secretary) might include Dan Reicher, former DOE and now working on energy issues at Google, or Jason Grumet, executive director of the National Commission on Energy Policy, who has been working hard for the Obama campaign. Obama will probably also want to recruit someone knowledgable about carbon capture and storage for a mid- to upper-level post, perhaps someone like MIT physics professor Ernest Moniz.

Email the Author | Email This Post | | Digg | Facebook

Comments (4)

macebruce Author Profile Page:

Found this on GreenFaucet today. Talks about how the surge on the dollar has helped to drive the price of crude down even further. Not the total reason, but gives some facts...

48001am19 Author Profile Page:

President-elect Obama believes in the non-traditional approach to achieve the "change we need". So rather than Gore, Schwarzenegger or the other Gov's, here's an unlikely, but very appropriate non-traditional approach for Energy Secretary under President Obama: Andrew Liveris, current CEO of the Dow Chemical Company. He's been out preaching abut the need for a truly comprehensive energy policy in the U.S. for a long while now, most recently at the coveted podium of the Detroit Economic Club. Every time he speaks, he's told he should be running for public office. Given his company is hugely connected to the energy sector and he is vastly knowledgeable of all things energy on a global basis, this non-traditional choice makes a lot of sense.

tharriso Author Profile Page:

Al Gore, T. Boone Pickens

watersandwind Author Profile Page:

Being from Pennsylvania I can tell you, ED RENDELL would be never do it. That is a man who LOVES his job (Vice Prez or Senator are the only posts that would move him at this point).

Other good choices for the ENERGY CZAR are written up by Greentech Media at

PostGlobal is an interactive conversation on global issues moderated by Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria and David Ignatius of The Washington Post. It is produced jointly by Newsweek and, as is On Faith, a conversation on religion. Please send us your comments, questions and suggestions.