I guess it was too nasty and partisan to suggest that coal makes people sick, so Dr. Steven Chu had to tone it down in the hearing room.
President-elect Barrack Obama's nominee for Energy secretary, Steven Chu, walked a fine line today between his strong views on the need to combat climate change and the concern of some senators about Chu's past criticism of coal use, endorsement of gasoline taxes and tepid embrace of a cap-and-trade system for limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
Chu, who appeared before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, was asked about a comment he once made that "coal is my worst nightmare." Chu told the committee that "if the world continues to use coal the way it is using it today, not only in the United States but in Russia, India and China, it is a pretty bad dream." But he added that he does not favor a moratorium on coal and said he would seek and fund research on technologies so that the United States could continue to tap its abundant coal reserves.
Although Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who heads the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, once called for sharply raising gasoline taxes, today he echoed Obama's comments that given the troubled economy, higher gasoline taxes are for now "off the table." But he also said that higher taxes could lead to lower prices for crude oil by creating incentives for more efficient vehicles and reducing demand for petroleum products [...]
Chu also responded to questions on a variety of topics from members of the Senate committee:
Nuclear power: Chu said that he favored tapping loan guarantees to restart the U.S. nuclear industry, which he said had to be "part of our mix." But he deflected a question from Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) about whether he favored a far-reaching expansion of nuclear power, saying he hoped to get "a few" new plants started while continuing to search for safe ways to store nuclear waste.
He said that current methods of reprocessing nuclear waste, a solution favored by the Bush administration, were "not ideal" and that the issue need not be resolved for a decade. "We don't need a solution today or even ten years from today," he said.
Offshore oil exploration: Chu repeated Obama's view that exploration onshore and offshore had to be part of "a comprehensive energy policy," but he added that U.S. reserves were a tiny fraction of world reserves. "The more efficient use of energy in the United States is the biggest factor that can reduce our dependence on foreign oil," he said.
Clean coal, nuclear, no carbon pricing, offshore drilling - what a conservative bonanza! Boy, was this guy emasculated.
In his opening remarks Chu promised to reduce emissions, but given the fact that his wings are so clipped and the progress will be so incremental, I'm not sure it'll matter. Very disappointing stuff from what was thought to be one of Obama's best nominees. Heck, even the CEO of EXXON is advocating a carbon tax (though probably because he knows the politics are treacherous; John Dingell tried this same kind of sabotage last year).