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Energy Secretary Chu to step down

February 01, 2013|By Neela Banerjee
  • Friday, the White House announced that Energy Secretary Steven Chu would be resigning his post.
Friday, the White House announced that Energy Secretary Steven Chu would… (Evan Vucci / Associated…)

WASHINGTON -- Energy Secretary Steven Chu said he is leaving the Obama administration, ending a tenure marked by active development of alternative energy that won plaudits from environmentalists and drew attacks from conservatives, especially after the bankruptcy of the federally-backed solar panel maker, Solyndra.

Chu said that he planned to stay at least through late February and was prepared to stay longer in order to hand over the agency to a new secretary. A Nobel laureate in physics, Chu oversaw the deployment of $35 billion in stimulus funding, much of it to research initiatives and companies charting new vehicle fuels, advanced batteries for large-scale power storage and  renewable energy.

President Obama thanked Chu for pushing an energy agenda that he said embraced fossil fuels and renewable power. “Steve brought to the Energy Department a unique understanding of both the urgent challenge presented by climate change and the tremendous opportunity that clean energy represents for our economy,” Obama said in a statement.  “And during his time as Secretary, Steve helped my Administration move America towards real energy independence. Over the past four years, we have doubled the use of renewable energy, dramatically reduced our dependence on foreign oil, and put our country on a path to win the global race for clean energy jobs.”

Under Chu, the Energy Department gave grants and loans to more than 1300 companies to develop new lines of research and ramp up promising businesses. Only one percent of those agency-backed companies went bankrupt, but their demise attracted the attention of conservative critics of the administration, who questioned the government’s role in supporting the commercialization of new technologies. Congressional Republicans held multiple inquiries into the failure of Solyndra, which had $535 million in federal loan guarantees through an Energy Department program. The company laid off 1100 workers and is the subject of a Justice Department investigation.  The many hearings on Solyndra ultimately failed to support the Republicans’ assertion that the loan guarantees were awarded because of the company’s ties to a major Obama donor.

Without mentioning Solyndra explicitly, Chu said in a statement, “The test for America’s policy makers will be whether they are willing to accept a few failures in exchange for many successes. America’s entrepreneurs and innovators who are leaders in global clean energy race understand that not every risk can – or should – be avoided.”

Chu said he planned to return to academia. Though Chu was an outsider to Washington and politics more broadly, those whose names have come up as possible successors have deep roots in state and national politics.  Those supposedly being considered include former Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), former Colorado governor Bill Ritter, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D), current Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman, Center for American Progress founder and former Clinton Chief-of-Staff John Podesta and Stanford University’s Dan Reicher, who served on the Obama transition team and was the Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy under Bill Clinton.

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