Thursday, December 11, 2008

Change is here, it seems

Dec. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Barack Obama’s choice of a Clinton administration veteran to head a new White House energy office and a Nobel Prize-winning physicist as energy secretary will redefine the way policy is made and applied in the U.S.

The pundits, Chris Matthews included, keep wondering about the change promised by Obama. Of course, that he got elected is the first manifestation of change. His method of assembling his Administration, and its composition, are other such manifestations.

At stake is the success of Obama’s plan to invest $150 billion in alternative energy technologies that will create jobs and cut emissions of gases linked to global warming. Chu, who won the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics, will help decide how to spend the money. Browner, who led the Environmental Protection Agency under Bill Clinton, will coordinate the efforts of at least 13 federal agencies and commissions.

Delegation of authority to strong personalities who will be charged with getting things done.

Browner is likely to focus on big-picture energy issues sweeping across all federal agencies, while Chu will be responsible for making sure the Energy Department develops the technologies needed to allow solar, wind and biomass to compete with oil and coal, said Arvizu and other analysts.

Browner might be in charge of the big picture, opines one analyst; Chu might handle the details, the nuts and bolts, as it were.

Mike Lubell, a physics professor at the City College of New York who has known Chu for 30 years, said having a scientist as an energy secretary will be vital in helping remove obstacles to achieving Obama’s goals. “Almost anything you look at in the energy arena today, the solutions are not cost competitive,” Lubell said.

Chu might be a visionary, as well.

In particular, mysteries regarding how to store energy when the wind is not blowing or the sun is not shining have to be unlocked, Lubell said. Battery technology has to be improved, carbon sequestration has to be developed and cellulosic ethanol has to be made more affordable. “These are big science and technology problems,” he said.

There is plenty of skepticism, too: Republicans and business interests are already decrying more bureaucracy. Time will tell. I like it.

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