The Environmental and Clean Energy Ball may be a party, a once-in-four-years chance to wear my tux, but it is also a source of news about names. Everybody is buzzing over who is going to fill out the organization chart at the Energy Department under Secretary Chu.
Sue Tierney is widely expected to be nominated for deputy (as WaPo first reported here). Dr. Tierney would be a first rate deputy — and I can say that with some confidence since not only is Sue a colleague and friend, but also my first job at the department in 1993 was special assistant for policy and planning to then Deputy Secretary Bill White (now mayor of Houston).
Deputy is a very demanding job. You are the DOE’s chief operating officer. You have to make the trains run on time, and these are big, messy trains — the nuclear weapons laboratories, the energy labs, the physics labs, and the “cleanup sites” like Hanford, which are the toxic legacy of the U.S. nuclear weapons program. If the secretary doesn’t have prior experience as part of a senior leadership team managing a federal agency, the COO should. Dr. Tierney was assistant secretary of policy at DOE when I worked there.
Tierney has a unique set of qualifications at a time when we must redesign our entire energy system, change utility regulations to foster energy efficiency, and quickly site tens (and then hundreds) of gigawatts of renewable energy, along with a new, smart power grid to enable both the efficiency and the renewables (and plug-in hybrids):
Dr. Tienery was Commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities. She served as executive director of the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Council. Dr. Tierney (full bio and CV here) has a Ph.D. in Regional Planning from Cornell. Her dissertation: Congressional policy making on energy policy issues.
There was also a lot of buzz about who would get the No. 3 position at DOE — office of the under secretary. When I was at DOE, we only had one Under Secretary for the whole department, not a terribly smart design for such an unwieldy agency. Now there are three, and the most important, particularly for cleantech advocates, is the one that oversees the energy programs (see chart here [PDF]).
(Side note to Sue, Chu, and the rest of the incoming DOE team: I don’t think it makes any sense for the under secretary who oversees all of the energy programs to also oversee the weapons cleanup effort. They are completely unrelated areas and require completely different skill sets. The under secretary should be an energy expert — preferably a deployment expert. If so, they (probably) won’t be an expert on the cleanup of nuclear weapons facilities, a highly specialized area. In any case, I’d rather they devoted their full time to energy matters and not get sidetracked into the literal and figurative sinkhole of the cleanup mess.)
The buzz is that the under will either be Dan Reicher or Elgie Holstein, both of whom were former chiefs of staff at DOE when I was there — yes, DOE chief of staff is a job with a high turnover rate, although, in fact, all senior executive branch political appointees (those named to the Senior Executive Service) have an average lifetime of about two years in their job.
By the way, for those who might be worried about seeing too many former Clinton people in those positions — it is in fact a very good thing. None of these folks are Clintonites in the (supposedly) negative way that some people think of that term. I doubt Bill or Hillary would know Sue, Dan, or Elgie from Adam or Eve (except possibly that they would be wearing different clothing).
In any case, President Barack Obama needs to hit the ground running. Federal agencies are completely different from all other entities on this planet and nothing provides experience other than having worked in one. It took me a solid 12 months to figure out how to get things done at DOE.
I would also add that the process of becoming official — getting the FBI background check done, getting the requisite political support, satisfying all those who might block your appointment — can be quite lengthy for a newbie, six to nine months for some. Appointing ex-DOE folk means Obama will have a serious energy team in place quickly to oversee the clean energy stimulus money and to put together the mother of all energy bills this year and a climate bill, which will be developed this year and probably passed next year. And if you want ex-DOE folk, you gotta go with former Clinton appointees. But I digress.
Dan and Elgie are very different people with very different skill sets. You can read Elgie’s bio here and Dan’s here. Either would be an excellent choice. I’ll blog on whoever is the final choice when he is named. I should note that one person associated with the transition cast doubt on the Dan vs. Elgie storyline. Stay tuned!
And yes, there was even a party last night with dancing and speeches. I didn’t bring a pen — sometimes I am still more energy wonk than blogger — but fellow blogger Adam Siegel was there. And he seems to have brought a pen since he has quotes from the all the speakers in his post, “Dancing in a new era … “
I did set to memory the headline quote from the new energy Secretary, Stephen Chu: “We are on a path that scares me.” I think it takes a very serious, very confident person to admit in a public meeting like that they are scared of what we face. But then again, he has a Nobel prize in physics and has run an energy lab. Anybody who truly understands both the scale of the problem that climate science has detailed and the scale of the energy solution should be scared. I certainly am.
If any group of individuals is going to put the nation and the world on a sustainable path, however, it is the team of unrivaled experts Obama has selected.
This post was created for ClimateProgress.org, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.