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Obama Names Scientist as Energy Secretary

New Cabinet to tackle global warming, search for alternative sources.

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With the nomination of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu for energy secretary, President-elect Barack Obama made sure no one missed the message in the resume.
''His appointment should send a signal to all that my administration will value science,'' Obama said at a Chicago news conference on Monday. ''We will make decisions based on facts, and we understand that the facts demand bold action.''
Chu, director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, headlines a group of appointments that include former Environmental Protection Agency chief Carol Browner as a coordinator of energy and climate policy, former New Jersey environmental protection commissioner Lisa Jackson as EPA administrator and Los Angeles deputy mayor Nancy Sutley to run the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Obama also plans to name Democratic Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado to run the Interior Department, rounding out an environmental and energy team charged with quickly tackling global warming and developing alternative forms of energy.
With this team, some environmentalists and former federal research scientists expect Obama's White House to break from what they view as the Bush administration's record of overlooking science in favor of politics.
''It's such an incredible contrast, compared to the years of darkness under the current administration, to see a scientist in such a position of authority and influence in the Cabinet,'' Alan Nogee, who directs the Clean Energy Program for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said of Chu's appointment. Nogee's group has accused the administration of silencing and overruling scientists in policymaking.
Critics — including Nogee's organization and former EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman — have complained about the influence of industry lobbyists and ideologues on administration decision-making.
California Rep. Henry Waxman is among the Democrats who repeatedly have charged top Bush officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney and political adviser Karl Rove, with pressing federal agencies to take positions that put them at odds with their own scientists on energy, global warming and stem cell research.
The critics say many high-ranking scientists have fled federal jobs or have been forced from advisory panels to tilt agency decision-making to be more favorable to corporate interests.
In 2001, Waxman issued a 40-page report accusing the administration of having ''manipulated the scientific process and distorted or suppressed scientific findings.'' In 2004, 60 prominent scientists accused the administration of ''misrepresenting and suppressing scientific knowledge for political purposes.''
In 2006, the top climate scientist at NASA, James Hansen, said the Bush administration tried to gag him from speaking publicly after he gave an academic lecture calling for prompt reductions in greenhouse gases.
Obama stressed the importance of energy and climate policy to the nation's economy and security on Monday — though he declined, when asked by a reporter, to say when he plans to grant a waiver for California to begin regulating greenhouse gas emissions.
Focus at Berkeley lab
The 60-year-old Chu, who won his Nobel Prize for developing methods to trap atoms with lasers, has oriented the Berkeley lab to focus on renewable energy and climate change. On Monday he stressed the Energy Department's role in supporting scientists, public and private, and innovations that he said ''can transform the entire landscape of energy demand and supply.''
His appointment has won wide praise across industries and party lines. Current Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said that Chu ''understands the significance of our energy and environmental challenges, and more importantly, understands the technical solutions necessary to address them, . . . I hold him in the highest regard.''
By Jim Tankersley and Tom Hamburger , Chicago Tribune
The Associated Press contributed to this report.