Jan 13, 2009

Obama’s energy nominee — incoming head of LANL and Sandia — gets a warm welcome in Washington

By Trip Jennings, The New Mexico Independent

Steven Chu, who will oversee the labs at Los Alamos and Sandia as energy secretary, got his first taste of Washington Tuesday.

And by all reports it was a friendly affair.

Chu appeared Tuesday before Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s committee, Energy and Natural Resources, which has jurisdiction over the federal department. And neither controversy nor tension reared its ugly head between the lawmakers and Chu, a physicist and Nobel laureate.

According to the Associated Press, Chu said “he will aggressively pursue policies aimed at addressing climate change and achieving greater energy independence by developing clean energy sources.”

The AP added:

“But he also told lawmakers that he views nuclear power and coal as critical parts of the nation’s energy mix and said he was optimistic that ways can be found to make coal a cleaner energy source by capturing its carbon dioxide emissions.”

Chu is an advocate for much more energy research and for exploring alternative energy sources.

Later, Chu said “nuclear energy produces a fifth of the nation’s electricity and 70 percent of the carbon-free electricity” and “is going to be an important part of our energy mix,” the AP reported.

It was unclear where Chu stands on the future of New Mexico’s two labs, however. And as of this writing there was little analysis on LANL’s must-read blog, LANL: The Rest of The Story. But that could change.

During his testimony, Chu said high gasoline prices were a threat to the economy, which The New York Times noted was a retreat from earlier statements Chu has made, including that prices should be higher. Of domestic oil production, “Chu reiterated Obama’s views that some expansion of offshore oil and gas development should be included as a broader energy plan,” the AP reported.

Bingaman, for his part, said Chu had the “insight and vision” to press Obama’s energy policies at the department.

Bingaman, the AP reported, said he saw no serious opposition to Chu’s nomination and that a committee vote approving his selection would likely occur later this week.

[See also: LA Times: Jeff Bingaman not informed of Obama’s energy, interior choices.]


Anonymous said...

"It was unclear where Chu stands on the future of New Mexico’s two labs, however. And as of this writing there was little analysis on LANL’s must-read blog, LANL: The Rest of The Story. But that could change." (News)

Did they say "must-read blog", Frank? You've done well! The NY TImes and the Washington Post have some tough, new competition.

The fact that Dr. Chu had almost nothing to say about nuclear weapons, which constitutes the major part of DOE's funding, and nothing to say about the NNSA labs... this does not bode well for New Mexico.

I suspect we are getting ready to see a major shift of funding away from the DOE's defense labs (LANL, LLNL, SNL) and towards the DOE's energy labs (LBL, ORNL, PNNL, ANL). Dr. Chu's very own LBL should do especially well going forward with the good doctor leading DOE. The employees at LBL also are privileged to have held on to their UC academic status and to UC's non-profit management. In fact, I don't believe any "for-profit" outfits like Bechtel have yet to infect the DOE's energy labs.

Anonymous said...

I know some LANL staff who left shortly after the Nanos reign began and moved to jobs at LBL.

At the time, I didn't think it a smart decision, but today I realize these scientists made a great choice.

Frank Young said...

1/13/09 10:57 PM,
It's the readers who supply comments and email me things to post who make this blog work. I can't take the credit for that. I'm just standing on the shoulders of a guy named Doug and a dog named Pat.

Anonymous said...

I wonder what Dr. Chu would have to say about this (copied from LLNL Blog)? After all, he has UC experience, DOE National Lab experience, and now is the nominee for DOE Secretary. Would there be "class distinction" among employees/retirees working under DOE/UC on his watch?:

LLNL/UC Retiree Non-Medicare Medical Insurance Debacle
Anonymously contributed:

Just got home from the drugstore. Coverage for my medications under the new Anthem-Blue Cross EPO plan that I was basically FORCED into by LLNS when they canceled Health Net is way, way down. I have to pay $35 for each medication, when under Health Net, I had to pay $10 or at the most $20. (Plus, they wouldn't even cover two of my medications without special justification from my doctor.....they wanted me to pay $389 for one of them and $125 for the other.)

This is despite the fact that my own contribution to the Anthem-Blue Cross EPO Health Plan (given my years of service to UC) WENT UP FROM $240/month for better coverage under Health Net TO MORE THAN $380/month (almost a 60% increase). And office co-pays went from $15 to $20. Less and less coverage for more and more money. Thanks DOE. Thanks UC. Thanks LLNS. Thanks George Miller.

Don't want to hear how LLNS is doing us such a great favor because "medical benefits are not guaranteed." The FACT is that UC retirees from non-LLNL/non-LANL campuses (including LBNL, Berkeley, Santa Barbara, UCLA, Davis, San Francisco, San Diego, Santa Cruz, Irvine, and probably UC Merced, if there are any) still have more choices in plans (like our old Health Net), pay lower premiums, and have better benefits. I feel like a second-class UC citizen. Why are we being treated so differently than UC retirees from the other campuses?

I was SOLD on the idea when I came to work at LLNL and throughout my career, on a UC RETIREMENT (and all benefits thereby included, those guaranteed or not). NOT a DOE RETIREMENT. NOT a LLNS RETIREMENT. I understood that health benefits for retirees were not guaranteed. BUT, nobody ever said that UC/LLNL retirement benefits would be anything less or even different from OTHER UC campuses.

It doesn't seem right or fair. Maybe it's legal, but it ought to be investigated. Seems like the stuff class-action lawsuits are made of.

Any opinions out there?

Eric said...

For the New Mexico Independent and for others in D.C. and around the world, can we, even for a week, put aside snarkiness and anonymous attacks and try to engage in some compelling analysis of why nuclear weapons work is critical to DOE and how much funding it should get over the next four years. Proformas and geopolitics might dominate this analysis.

A lot of people, including LANL's funders at DOE and in Congress, should appreciate lucid input from informed LANL workers as well as those at Sandia and Livermore.

Anonymous said...

"It was unclear where Chu stands on the future of New Mexico's two labs...This sums up what we all have been expecting, if we (LANL) were going to have a role in this administration, then "it is very clear that we will not".

Anonymous said...

7:34, I believe it's been stated several times on both the LLNL and LANL blogs that the understanding was that retiree medical for LANL and LLNL was never part of UC; it was only administered by UC while being funded by LANL and LLNL. Should be able to verify.

Anonymous said...

Congress is going to demand some sacrificial cuts to placate those complaining about a $2 trillion deficit during this next fiscal year. It appears to me that one place they'll execute these cuts will be in the nuclear weapons budget.

As it has been said before on this blog, the people now leading this new Congress really don't like the fact that the US still has nuclear weapons. They look at US nuclear weapons research in a 'de minimis' light and view any weapons budget cuts as broadcasting a powerful non-proliferation message to the rest of the world. I think they are wrong, but this seems to be the current tenor in Washington DC in the political circles that matter.

Politically, this will probably be an easy cut for Congress to pull off. Our new Sen. Udall will be ineffectual at hindering any job loses at LANL. His recent comment about a "bright future" at LANL may soon come back to haunt him.

Anonymous said...

Sen Domenici's exit interview in Innovation magazine.


"What advice do you have for the national laboratories, often called the crown jewels of American science and innovation?

Diversification. Los Alamos National Laboratory, for example, is not creating a great mix of science. They’re predominantly weapons and defense-oriented and they are just beginning to see some daylight on some other scientific options. On the contrary, at Sandia National Laboratories, a big percentage of what they do is new. More than 50 percent of their work is something other than defense. We’re not going to dramatically change overnight what the labs do, and where they get their money, but clearly they need to start diversifying."

"Do you have any comment on the organization of the DOE or advice for structuring the agency moving forward?

I was the one who got the National Nuclear Security Administration established. It was supposed to be a much cleaner operation from the expectation of security breaches or violations. When I look at it, I determine it’s not working very well..."

Frank Young said...

Thanks, that comment is being converted to a top level post!

Anonymous said...

1/14/09 11:18 AM

I disagree with the notion that congress is aching to slash nuclear weapons budgets. My guess is anything not directly related to weapons work probably will be shelved (and sooner rather than later).

Anonymous said...

Why is it that when most posters refer to the DOE Energy Labs (LBL, ORNL, PNNL, ANL) they always miss the one that is currently getting a whole lot of attention...NREL.

Frank Young said...

Because they want its mission?

Anonymous said...

NREL has been so small for so long, it's easy to forget about it. Of course, you are right. They are on a path for some terrific growth.

Anonymous said...

Is it Fu-Man-Chu?