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Obama To Name Scientist To Head Energy Dept.


President-elect Barack Obama plans to fill some more Cabinet posts when he holds a news conference in Chicago this morning. He's expected to introduce former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle as his choice for health and human services secretary. Mr. Obama is expected, according to several reports, to choose a Nobel Prize-winning physicist as his new energy secretary. Steve Chu would join a growing team of energy experts in the new administration, as NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Steve Chu runs the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, the oldest of the Energy Department's national labs. Before that, he led the physics department at Stanford University. And Stanford colleague Jim Sweeney calls Chu an exciting choice to be secretary of energy.

Professor JAMES SWEENEY (Director, Precourt Institute for Energy Efficiency, Stanford University): He really fits in the category of the brightest and the best, as a person who can really give leadership in the energy area.

HORSLEY: That's an area where President-elect Obama hopes to make big strides. He's putting together an administration that's rich in energy knowhow. Prospective Commerce Secretary Bill Richardson was a former energy secretary, and incoming National Security Advisor Jim Jones led an institute devoted to reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Chu has little Washington experience, but he would bring extensive technical expertise to the table. He's one of the nation's most renowned scientists. In 1997 he shared the Nobel Prize for work on methods to cool and trap atoms using laser light.

Professor SWEENEY: He's a true scientist. But in addition, he understands the economic and technology and policy issues related to energy, so very much a renaissance person in looking at energy issues.

HORSLEY: Sweeney says Chu is also a good communicator who could help to build public support for new energy initiatives. He's worked to make his national laboratory a leader in the search for alternative sources of energy, especially those that don't contribute to greenhouse gases.

Professor SWEENEY: So he is positioned to lead the Department of Energy towards the future in energy.

HORSLEY: President-elect Obama is also expected to create a new White House counsel to coordinate energy and climate change policy across government agencies. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.