Bush picks ex-professor for Energy

Seasoned official faces tough issues, including drilling in the Arctic

December 11, 2004|By Edwin Chen and Warren Vieth | Edwin Chen and Warren Vieth,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - President Bush yesterday nominated Sam Bodman, a former Massachusetts Institute of Technology chemistry professor and business executive who has held senior positions in the Commerce and Treasury departments, to become the United States' next energy secretary.

Bodman, who has been serving as second-in-command at the Treasury Department, is considered a seasoned government administrator with unusually deep knowledge of the technical and economic aspects of energy issues.

But he will face daunting challenges at his new post, including a renewed push for Bush's contested national energy plan, looming decisions on nuclear waste disposal, and possible political challenges from within the administration.

Moreover, at a time of volatile oil prices, a declining dollar and rising federal deficits, energy is a highly charged element of overall economic policy.

"It will be part of fixing the U.S. economic problem," said Philip K. Verleger Jr., a senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics and a former Treasury official. "We have a weak dollar. We have a zero savings rate. There is a real risk of an economic meltdown. With a weaker dollar, oil prices could go way up."

Verleger praised Bodman's knowledge of the issues, saying, "For once we'll have a secretary of energy who actually knows a good deal about the subject and will be pretty well plugged in."

In making the appointment, Bush vowed to renew his campaign to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign energy supplies and urged Congress to enact his national energy plan, which has been stalled because it would open parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration.

"I am optimistic about the task ahead, and I know Sam Bodman is the right man to lead this important and vital agency," the president said during a brief White House ceremony.

Independent analysts said one of the biggest challenges facing Bodman will be making his presence felt in an administration in which energy policy has been largely dictated by two veteran oilmen: Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

"There's a feeling in the industry that no matter who is at Energy, the really important decisions are made in the vice president's office," said Rick Mueller, senior oil analyst at ESAI, a Boston-based consulting business. "Cheney definitely has hands-on experience in the oil patch and perceives himself as the administration's energy guy."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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