CHICAGO (Reuters) – Insisting on the need to develop new forms of energy, U.S. President-elect Barack Obama on Monday chose as his energy secretary a Nobel physics laureate who is a major promoter of alternative fuels.
Obama named Steven Chu, the winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics who was an early advocate for finding scientific solutions to climate change, to head the Energy Department.
Chu will work closely with former Environmental Protection Agency head Carol Browner, whom Obama named to a new post that will coordinate White House policy on energy and climate change.
“In the 21st century, we know that the future of our economy and national security is inextricably linked with one challenge: energy,” Obama told a news conference. “All of us know the problems that are rooted in our addiction to foreign oil. It constrains our economy, shifts wealth to hostile regimes and leaves us dependent on unstable regions.”
“To control our own destiny, America must develop new forms of energy and new ways of using it. And this is not a challenge for government alone — it’s a challenge for all of us.”
Obama also named Lisa Jackson, former head of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, to run the Environmental Protection Agency. He named Nancy Sutley, a deputy mayor of Los Angeles, to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
To round out his energy and environment team, Obama will name Colorado Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar, a former environmental lawyer, as secretary of the interior, transition aides and Democratic sources said. The Department of the Interior leases public lands for oil and gas drilling.
Obama said he would officially announce his choice for the Interior department later this week.
The president-elect will hold a meeting of his key economic team on Tuesday. Transition officials would give no details but said the meeting would include nominees for all the top financial posts including the Treasury Department, National Economic Council and the Office of Management and Budget.
Obama’s energy and environmental team will play a major role in his quest to revive the U.S. economy by boosting renewable energy use and creating millions of “green” jobs that will ease America’s reliance to foreign oil.
The president-elect, who takes office on January 20, pointed out that other U.S. presidents over the past three decades had pledged to make America less dependent on foreign energy supplies.
“THIS TIME WE CANNOT FAIL”
“This time has to be different. This time we cannot fail, nor can we be lulled into complacency simply because the price at the pump has for now gone down from $4 a gallon,” he said.
Obama’s choices were applauded by environmentalists who said they showed he was serious about combating global warming and about moving toward more “green” jobs.
Obama’s energy and environment team will also be charged with developing policies to reduce carbon emissions blamed for global warming.
He said his nomination of Chu should send a signal his administration will “value science.”
“We will make decisions based on the facts, and we understand that facts demand bold action,” Obama added.
The Bush administration has had a rocky relationship with the scientific community and was at times accused by critics of ignoring scientific evidence in its efforts to make political points on issues such as global warming.
Obama, who has begun to lay out plans for a massive recovery plan to stimulate the economy and create about 2.5 million jobs, said many of them should be “green” jobs.
“We can create millions of jobs, starting with a 21st century economic recovery plan that puts Americans to work building wind farms, solar panels, and fuel-efficient cars.”
Obama has set a goal of making public buildings more efficient, modernizing the electricity grid and reducing greenhouse gas emissions while preserving national resources.
He refused to answer directly a reporter’s question on whether he would reinstate the presidential ban on offshore drilling, which President George W. Bush recently revoked.
Also on Monday, Obama had a 5 1/2 hour meeting with his national security team, discussing a range of international challenges for the Obama administration, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Obama will hold another news conference on Tuesday to announce he has chosen Chicago superintendent of schools Arne Duncan to be his nominee for secretary of education, a senior Democrat said on Monday.
Duncan has seven years experience as chief executive of Chicago’s public school system, the third largest in the country, and has earned a reputation for addressing issues such as how to raise teacher quality and transform weak schools.
Tuesday’s news conference will be held at 11:45 a.m. EST (1645 GMT) at an elementary school he and Duncan visited together in October 2005.
By Deborah Charles
(Additional reporting by Tom Doggett and Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Peter Cooney and Todd Eastham)