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Staff file photo by Don Himsel
Energy secretary Steven Chu, center, listens to CEO of EnerTrac Steve Owens, left, describe a remote monitoring system for fuel tanks during Chu's visit to the Hudson company April 28, 2011.
Friday, February 1, 2013

My D.C. hero is leaving D.C.: Energy Secretary Chu steps down

Members of the president's Cabinet usually aren't heroes - does any youngster want to grow up to be, say, Secretary of Agriculture? - but Stephen Chu, the secretary of energy, is different. I mean, the guy won a Nobel Prize for Physics, for crying out loud, and he handled four years of climate-change-denying, anti-science, ignorance-is-power goofballs without ever screaming, at least in public.

Well, enough hero-worship; he's going to step down. Four years in D.C. is enough, I guess.

I met Chu briefly last year when he visited EnerTrac in Hudson, although that overplays the superficial interaction between well-protected source and media on a fly-through trip. I asked him about Northern Pass, the wildly controversial effort to bring power from HydroQuebec through NH on a big DC power line. I got the impression that he thought it was a no-brainer to build it, helping diversify the nation's electrical supply and power grid, but couldn't say so for political reasons - he gave out some boilerplate about the feds not interfering with state decisions.

The NY Times Green Blog had a great anecdote about Chu in a Jan. 31 story about electric vehicles (here):

During a short question-and-answer session with reporters in the cavernous Washington Convention Center, I asked Dr. Chu whether sequestration would interrupt progress on energy problems. (Under the New Year’s Eve deal in Congress to head off the “fiscal cliff,” automatic massive budget cuts, known as sequestration, are scheduled to take place in March.)

To the puzzlement of some reporters, he promptly began describing how we would still need to sequester carbon dioxide from power plants even if progress is made on embracing electric vehicles. When I clarified things and said that I was referring to fiscal sequestration, he quipped to good-natured laughter, “See what a nerd I am?”

Washington needs a lot more nerds.