Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Steven Chu and The Perfect Storm

Steven ChuFirst, consider that Steven Chu’s confirmation hearing yesterday (you can watch the whole thing at this link – it’s a little over two hours) was moved to a bigger room. While we suspect that Hilary Clinton’s hearing, happening at the same time, got the marquee space, the interest in Chu’s testimony was huge – and justifiably so, as many of the energy topics addressed during the Presidential campaign continues to interest people even as gas prices have righted themselves.

Second, consider Chu’s unexpected celebrity as the product of the permanent bruising left from the pummeling at the pumps everyone took last Summer. If average energy consumers were sanguine before about their energy options, they are no longer. Add the popular and largely media-driven concern about global warming and greeniness and there is a perfect storm – the abstract and distant becomes concrete and immediate.

You can read Chu’s comments about nuclear energy in the post below. He had a lot to say on other topics, too, of course, but nuclear energy really became the renewable energy source of the day, with its cousins solar getting a couple of shout-outs (both positive) and wind barely gusting in. (Biofuel got more coverage than either – corn state Senators were looking for encouragement.)

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Speaking of corn state senators, coal state senators were also much in attendance. Chu threaded his way very carefully through the resulting mind field, but there’s no reason to think he was insincere in his measured outlook for coal. Pull quote: "We will be building some coal plants. One doesn't have a hard moratorium on something like that when we search for a way to capture carbon and store it safely." Well, okay.

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Chu’s focus on nuclear energy came about because of the questions he was asked, not by his own initiative. Still, it’s a big deal. Here’s the Politico’s headline:

Chu vows to push nuclear power

And first graf:

Steven Chu said on Tuesday that he would push as the new energy secretary to help the nuclear energy and clean coal industries jump-start their contributions to battle the nation’s energy crisis.

Headline from U.S. News and World Report:

Chu Quizzed Mostly on Nuclear Issues During Hearing for Energy Post

And first graf:

One could be forgiven for thinking that Steven Chu, President-elect Barack Obama's choice to head the Department of Energy, was being evaluated for a somewhat different role—that of, say, chief nuclear officer—during his Senate confirmation hearing this morning.

Yes, we think one could be forgiven.

While many outlets went with nuclear energy for their ledes, as many went with climate change as the hook – which suits us – while we were amused to see that both the Washington Times (an exceptionally conservative newspaper) and TPMCafe (an exceptionally liberal Web site) clamped onto coal: Obama energy pick backs coal and Energy Secretary-Designate, Steven Chu Endorses "Clean Coal"? (you can sample those for yourself – the perspectives differ quite a lot.)

Steven Chu swears in: the whole truth.

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