Steven Chu Confirmation Hearing

CQ Transcripts Wire
Wednesday, January 14, 2009 4:41 PM

SEN. JEFF BINGAMAN (D-N.M.): OK. Why don't we get started?

The committee meets this morning to consider the nomination of Do Steven Chu to be the secretary of energy. President-elect Obama will not officially nominate Dr. Chu until the new president is sworn in himself this next Tuesday.

It's customary, however, for the senate to confirm non- controversial cabinet nominations at the beginning of a new administration by unanimous consent without first referring them to committee. And it's customary to do so immediately following the inaugural ceremony.

We extended this courtesy to seven of President Bush's nominees eight years ago and to some of President Clinton's nominees 16 years ago.

In keeping with the past practices here in the committee, I've scheduled today's hearing on Dr. Chu's nomination and scheduled another hearing on Thursday on Senator Salazar's nomination in order to give members an opportunity to ask questions to the nominees and consider the nominations prior to the inauguration.

Unless there's serious opposition to one or both of the nominees, and I'm certainly not aware of any; it's my home that the committee might also be able to take a vote on the nominations later this week as well.

Dr. Chu's nomination comes in a pivotal time in the department's history. The department faces the daunting challenges of reducing our dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels, developing new sources of clean energy, finding ways to capture and store carbon emissions, modernizing our electric grid and developing more efficient energy technology.

So, at the same time, the department must fulfill its traditional mission of maintaining our nuclear deterrents, cleaning up the environmental legacy of the Cold War, and advancing the frontiers of scientific discovery and technological innovation.

We're very fortunate to have a nominee of Dr. Chu's high caliber to take on these responsibilities. He will bring to the job the keen scientific mind of a physicist and Nobel laureate, the experience and understanding of the Department of Energy of a national laboratory director, and the insight and vision needed to forge an energy policy for the 21st century.

President-elect Obama has made an excellent choice in nominating Dr. Chu to be the secretary of energy.

I strongly support his nomination. As I have said, I hope the committee will approve this nomination later this week and that the full senate will confirm him for this position next Tuesday.

Let me call on Sen. Murkowski to make any statements she would like to at this point.

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-ALASKA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

And Dr. Chu, welcome. Good morning, and thank you for your willingness to serve in this capacity this morning.

I would just like to note as we begin, when we think about the role that the Department of Energy plays and their mission to advance the nation's energy security, promoting scientific and technological innovation, ensure the environmental clean-up of the national nuclear weapons conflicts, the tasks that are before the Department of Energy are clearly not easy tasks.

The astronomer Carl Sagan once observed that we live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.

Now, well, that may be true of some people. It's certainly is not the case with you, Dr. Chu, a Nobel prize-winning physicist.

I think it's probably fair to say that you are uniquely poised in your ability to bring with you the background that relates to science and the technology.

As the director of the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Dr. Chu brings the distinguished record of scientific achievement to the position of Energy secretary.

Dr. Chu, I know that you are keenly aware of the magnitude of the position for which you're being considered. I commend you for agreeing to undertake the challenge.

I appreciate the opportunity that we had to discuss a few of the issues that you will be facing when we met last week and I look forward to your comments this morning as you elaborate even further.

The senators that join this committee do so because of the importance of these issues to their constituents as well as to the nation as a whole.

I encouraged you to be mindful of our intense interest in the decisions that you will be making. I look for your commitment if confirmed which I fully expect that will happen here -- the commitments to work closely with each of us as you consider and develop the Department of Energy policies.

Again, I thank you for your willingness to serve the President- elect and our country, and I do look forward to your comments this morning.

Thank you.

BINGAMAN: Thank you, Senator Murkowski.

I'll note that one of our colleagues is here.

Obviously, Dr. Chu is a constituent of Senator Feinstein. And I believe she is here to make a short statement to the committee and we welcome her.

Go right ahead.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CALIF.): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, Senator Murkowski, members of the committee.

Not only is Dr. Chu a constituent, but in the interest of full disclosure, both he and his wife Jean are friends.

And so, this is very easy for me and I am delighted to be able to introduce him to you at this time.

Simply stated, in my opinion, there is no one brighter or better equipped than this man to become secretary of energy.

Dr. Chu is persistent, persuasive and passionate about science. And I think you'll find that his determination is infectious.

He also has the power to inspire action and produce change. He is certain to marshal the enthusiasm and the leadership of the department when he takes the helm at the Energy Department.

Dr. Chu received the PhD in physics from the University of California at Berkeley. He spent both of his academic career at Stanford University and the University of California where he head the pioneering Lawrence Berkeley Lab.

At both schools, Dr. Chu is considered one of the great brilliant thinkers of his generation. And his contributions for the field of science are internationally renowned.

As Senator Murkowski stated in 1997, his research was recognized with the Nobel Prize in Physics, I believe for using a laser to be better able to gauge the size of atoms.

He'll correct me if that's inaccurate.

In 2004, the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab recruited him to run the lab. His directorship has been nothing short of revolutionary.

Dr. Chu has initiated and encouraged brainstorming sessions across scientific disciplines. He convinced great scientists from biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and nanotechnology to switch specialties and work together to address our nation's energy challenges.

When Dr. Chu first arrived, the lab didn't push the scientific envelop of renewable energy technology. Today, that's all changed.

Dr. Chu has called the global warming and the need for carbon- neutral renewable energy, quote, "the greatest challenge facing science" end quote, and has rallied his team of scientists to address it.

This collaboration has created cutting edge ideas which he then fought to fund.

He helped secure a 500 million-dollar B.P., British Petroleum, grant for a biosciences institute and successfully established one of the Department of Energy's joint bio-energy institutes.

And his efforts have yielded great results.

At the Bio-Energy Research Center, our best scientists are working to crack the mystery behind how enzymes in termites turn wood into energy.

Lawrence Berkeley researchers have developed a new battery technology that holds ten times the amount of electricity of existing batteries. And the lab scientists are exploring and might be able to bring to reality the idea of artificial photosynthesis.

There is no doubt that we need a scientist of Dr. Chu's caliber at the Department of Energy. But let me just mention one other pressing issue Dr. Chu will face at the Energy Department and that's nuclear policy.

The Cold War is over, but there remain thousands of dangerous missiles in the world's arsenal, most maintained by the United States and Russia.

Most are targeted at cities and are far more powerful than the bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Today, the threat is even more complex as more nations pursue nuclear ambitions and the world becomes less secure.

The Obama administration under Steve Chu's leadership at the Energy Department has the opportunity to develop a new bipartisan policy that will determine the role nuclear weapons will play in our nation's security strategy, and the size of the future stockpile.

By law, President-elect Barrack Obama must set forth his views on nuclear weapons and US national security strategy in his nuclear posture review by 2010.

I hope that the administration will move the United States closer to the dream of the predecessors, Ronald Reagan who in the second inaugural declared, "We seek the total elimination, one day, of nuclear weapons from the face of the earth", end quote.

I think Dr. Chu, a physicist who understands nuclear technology far better than I, will bring a valuable perspective to our efforts to reduce the nuclear threat.

So, I look forward to working with him. It's just a delight to introduce him to you, Mr. Chairman.

I know my colleague, Senator Boxer is here.

And California is worse off for his loss and the Energy Department is much better of.

So, thank you very much.

BINGAMAN: Thank you very much.

Senator Boxer, did you have a statement for the committee?


And I would ask unanimous consent that the entire statement be included in the record.

BINGAMAN: It will be included.

BOXER: I will make it shorter than the written statement.

Senator Bingaman and Senator Murkowski, my friend and colleagues, Senator Feinstein, and all my friends on this committee on both sides of the aisle, I am very proud and pleased to be here to introduce such an accomplished choice for energy secretary, Dr. Steven Chu.

The reason I was late in getting here is -- I was sitting in Foreign Relations where Senator Clinton is about to speak.

So, forgive me if I jump off and run back, but we all have those conflicts today.

It's an exciting day all over the Hill.

Today's nomination hearing is one of the many steps our country will take as we move to new direction to secure our nation's energy independence and tackle the enormous challenges of global warming.

I believe the United States must be a world leader in developing new renewable and alternative energy technologies to protect our environment, to protect the health of our people; but even more important, to be a leader in the world.

We do need a leader at the Department of Energy with a vision for moving our economy and our environment forward in these difficult times, and I think President-elect Obama has found that leader in Dr. Chu.

Thomas Freidman put it concisely in his most recent book, "Hot, Flat and Crowded." I commend that book to all of you. He said, and I quote him, "The ability to develop clean power and energy-efficient technologies is going to become the defining measure of a country's economic standing, environmental health, energy security and national security over the next 50 years", unquote.

And the nominee before us today has made it clear. He understands that.

Dr. Chu is uniquely qualified to be secretary of the Department of Energy with experience in the public, private and academic sectors. A Nobel-laureate physicist and a professor of physics and molecular and cell biology at UC Berkeley, Dr. Chu has been on the forefront of research and development, winning the Nobel Prize in 1997 for work on the development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light.

Dr. Chu has served as director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab since '04, giving him direct knowledge and insight into the valuable work carried out at our National Lab and work that this committee oversees.

Dr. Chu developed innovative projects such as Helios, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab's solar initiative to create transportation fuel from water and carbon dioxide.

Dr. Chu earned undergraduate degrees in Mathematics and Physics from the University of Rochester, a PhD in Physics from the University of California, Berkeley, a post-doctoral fellow at UC Berkeley before joining AT&T's Bell Labs.

He has been awarded ten honorary degrees, published 220 scientific papers, been awarded numerous awards including the American Physical Society's Arthur Schawlow Prize for Laser Science, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, and he served on numerous boards including the Hewlett Foundation, the Executive Committee of the National Academy Board on Physics and Astronomy.

Dr. Chu has also served as an adviser to the directors of National Institute of Health and the National Nuclear Security Agency.

Mr. Chairman, I think all of us who have worked here for a long time -- I have heard it so often stated that science must lead us. Science is the key.

Well, we have our man in Dr. Chu. When we demand good science, up-to-date science, we can trust that he knows it.

And I am so proud to be here with my colleague, Senator Feinstein, to introduce an extraordinary nominee from my home state of California. And I so look forward to supporting his confirmation before the full senate.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and ranking member Murkowski.

And thank you all.

BINGAMAN: Thank you for your statement. I thank both of you, and I know that you do have other hearings you need to go to, and please feel free to excuse yourselves as appropriate.

The rules of the committee which apply to all nominees require that nominees be sworn in connection with their testimony.

Dr. Chu, I would ask that you stand and raise your right hand.

Do you solemnly swear that the testimony you are about to give to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?


BINGAMAN: You may be seated. Before you begin your statement, I'll ask three questions that we address to each nominee before this committee.

The first is this: will you be available to appear before this committee and other congressional committees to represent departmental positions in respond to issues of concern to the Congress?

CHU: I will.

BINGAMAN: The second question is: are you aware of any personal holdings, investments or interests that could constitute a conflict of interest or create the appearance of such a conflict should you be confirmed and assume the office to which you have been nominated by the President?

CHU: All my personal assets have been reviewed by myself and the appropriate counselors with regard to conflict of interest, and I've taken appropriate action to avoid any conflicts.

BINGAMAN: Thank you. The third question is: are you involved or do you have any assets that are held in a blind trust?

CHU: No.

BINGAMAN: At this point, it's customary for us to invite the nominee to introduce any family members who are present.

If you would like to do that, please go right ahead.

CHU: Thank you. Mr. Chairman, I'd like to introduce two family members with me today.

Joining me is my wife, Jean Chu, wherever she is who I owe so much. She has been my steadfast partner, a highly valued counselor, and a great source of strength. Also joining us is my brother Morgan Chu who has traveled from Los Angeles for this event.

BINGAMAN: We welcome both of them.

At this point, why don't you go ahead and make your opening statement Dr. Chu and then we will -- and then we'll have questions?

CHU: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Chairman Bingaman, ranking member Murkowski, members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today.

I would also like to thank Senator Feinstein and Senator Boxer for that gracious introduction.

I'm deeply honored that President-elect Obama has selected me to serve as his energy secretary and I thank him for his support and confidence.

Mr. Chairman, this committee knows well the challenges we face.

Climate change is a growing and pressing problem. It's now clear that if we continue on our current path, we run the risk of dramatic disruptive changes to our climate in the lifetime of our children and our grand children.

At the same time, we face immediate threats to our economy and our natural security that stem from our dependence on oil.

Last year's rapid rise in oil and gasoline prices not only contributed to the recession we are now experiencing, but it also put a huge strain on the budgets of families all across America.

Although prices are now lower, we know that the economy remains vulnerable to future price swings.

We must make a greater, more committed path towards energy security through a comprehensive energy plan.

President-elect Obama recognizes that we must take sustained actions to meet these challenges, and he's put forward a comprehensive long-term plan to do so.

It's an aggressive plan, but one which I believe is achievable.

I would not have accepted the president-elect's nomination if I did not saw the potential that we move ahead on this plan.

In many ways, President Obama's plan builds on the good work of this committee in recent years.

Elements of this plan includes: a greater commitment to wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable energy sources; aggressive average to increase energy efficiency of our appliances and buildings; more efficient cars and trucks and then a push to develop plug-in hybrids; greater investment in technology to capture and store carbon emissions from coal-powered power plants; a continued commitment to nuclear power, and a long-term plan for waste disposal; responsible development of domestic oil and natural gas; increased commitment to research and development of new energy technology; a smarter, more robust transmission and distribution system and a carbon trade system to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

Taking together these elements of President-elect Obama's plan will put us on a course to a better energy and environmental future, create new jobs and industries, restore U.S. Energy Technology leadership, and help performed the foundation of our future economic prosperity.

It will be my primary goal as secretary to make the department of energy the leader in these critical efforts.

In pursuing this goal, I will use my experience as director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. As head of this 4,000- personnel organization for the last four and a half years, I've worked to focus the lab on our energy problems.

In particular, we have challenged some of the best scientists at the Berkeley Lab to turn their attention to the energy and climate change problem, and to bridge the gap between the science that the offices of science support so well, and the applied research that leads to energy innovation.

We have also worked to partner with academia and industries. These efforts are working and I want to extend this approach throughout the DOE's network of natural laboratories where 30,000 scientist and engineers are at work performing cutting edge research.

At the same time, I recognize the Department of Energy's mission is extremely broad and has many additional priorities that will command my attention.

The work of the National Nuclear Security Administration in maintaining our nation's nuclear defense and promoting non- proliferation throughout the world is critical for our national security.

I take this responsibility extremely seriously and I'm committed to work with the president, the national laboratories, other agencies, Congress and other organizations and the community to assure a safe and reliable nuclear stockpile and to address proliferation concerns as part of a long-term vision of a world without nuclear weapon.

The department also has legal and moral obligations to clean up the waste left from over 50 years of nuclear weapons production.

I know that many of you represent states where the department has not yet fulfilled this obligation.

Clean-up for these materials is a complicated, expensive, and long-term process but I pledge to you, I will do my best to accelerate these efforts in order to protect human health and the environment, and to return contaminated land to beneficial use.

I also pledge to continue the important work of the department in many other areas including the Power Marketing Administration, delivery of affordable energy, the modernizations of the electricity grid, and the assembly of reliable energy data by the Energy Information Administration.

Finally, I'm a proud member of the committee that produced the report, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm", commissioned by Chairman Bingaman and Senator Alexander.

The overarching message of that report is simple. The key to America's prosperity in the 21st century lies in our ability to develop our nation's intellectual capital, particularly in science and technology.

As the largest support of the physical sciences in America, the Department of Energy plays an essential role in the training, development and employment of our current and future core of scientists and engineers.

If confirmed, I pledge to nurture this incredible asset that is so essential for our economic prosperity.

As diverse as these missions and programs are, my effort as secretary will be unified by a common goal: improving management and program implementation. Simply put, if the department is to meet the challenges ahead, we will have to run more efficiently and effectively.

One of my first priorities will be to put together a strong leadership and management team, one that shares not only my vision for the department but also my commitment to improving the way the department does business.

I do not underestimate the difficulty of meeting these challenges, but I remain optimistic that we can meet them. I believe in the vitality of our country and our economy, and as a scientist, I am ever optimistic at our ability to extend the boundaries of what is possible.

If I am confirmed as secretary of energy, I commit to you that I will provide strong, focused, energetic leadership.

In particular, I look forward to a close partnership with this committee. In my role as secretary, I look forward to a new chapter of collaboration with this committee and with others in Congress as we embark upon an ambitious mission to address our nation's goals towards a sustainable, economically prosperous, and secure energy future.

The challenges we face will require bipartisan cooperation and sustained efforts.

I know that President-elect Obama is committed to exactly this kind of effort.

If confirmed as secretary, I will do my utmost to serve him and our great nation to the best of my ability.

Thank you and I would be happy to take any questions you may have.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2009 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive