President Carter has chosen a registered oil lobbyist from John Connally's Texas law firm to be general counsel of the new Energy Department. And for a supporting cast, the President has picked a couple of old nuclear power hands from the Atomic Energy Commission and several former Pentagon officials from the Nixon and Ford administrations.

The selections have stirred opposition on a number of fronts, including the Senate, where two nominees are already drawing fire.

The reason for the widespread criticism, nearly all of it directed at Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger, is that the appointments are being read for early signals of which interest groups - pro-nuclear, oil industry, solar or consumer advocates - will gain the upper hand in the new department.

"There are many people who want to form the department in their own image," replies Schlesinger, who dismisses the criticism. "We have a department which is not a crusading interest for specialized interest groups."

Critics, however, fear exactly the opposite.

"It's the best and the brightest all over again," complains one key Senate aide. "There are the folks that brought you the B-1 bomber, the breeder reactor, and John Connally."

Sens. William Proxmire (D-Wis.) and Howard B. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio) have urged Carter to withdraw Lynn C. Coleman's nomination as DOE general counsel. Coleman is in Connally's Houston law firm, and is a prominent registered lobbyist for Houston Natural Gas Corp. and coal-slurry pipeline legislation. Metzenbaum and others say an appointment tainted with "revolving door" questions cannot be reconciled with Carter's tough talk in [WORD ILLEGIBLE] weeks about oil industry [WORD ILLEGIBLE]

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So far the White House is untroubled. White House Counsel Robert Lipshutz says, "He was the President's personal choice - we discussed all possible conflict problems and went into it very thoroughly."

Coleman says he has negotiated a detailed agreement with the White House to disqualify himself from acting on issues which represent a potential conflict of interest.

Robert D. Thorne, one of the "old AEC hands" whom environmentalists regard as pro-nuclear, has been nominated for Assistant Secretary of Energy Technology. This would give him a key voice in determining how solar and other technologies fare against nuclear power in the competition for federal funds.

We're concerned that solar will be [WORD ILLEGIBLE] just the way it was at [WORD ILLEGIBLE] John Abbotts of the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Group. Schlesinger and Thorne both disagree.

Asked about the direction DOE will take in developing new energy sources, Schlesinger said, "We have no alternative but to change dramatically - we will be working very hard on solar and biomass." Biomass is a method of converting material such as agricultural wastes into natural gas.

Thorne, who spent 20 years with the AEC, will be asked at Senate hearings this week about his hole in the ERDA San Francisco regional office during a recent California nuclear referendum.Members of the Environmental Policy Center and Abbotts say Thorne abetted pro-nuclear forces in the stormy campaign.

Others such as Jim Cabie of New Directions, a public interest group supporting nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, say Thorne's past positions on the breeder reactor and nuclear reprocessing are "disappointing."

Thorne in an interview denies this: "I don' believe I represent an overbias of one technology over another. I am being somewhat unduly characterized as a nuclear advocate."

Only 4 per cent of DOE's current $10.4 billion budget is devoted to solar and conservation programs, while the bulk of the $2.7 billion allocated to energy technology is devoted to nuclear programs. Asked whether the number of former AEC officials - 7 out of the top 25 - would give nuclear power an edge in DOE, Schlesinger said neither he nor the department has a pro-nuclear bias.

Citing the search for alternative energy technologies, Schlesinger said, "Solar hot water is here now, and we should have solar heating and cooling in the near term."

The DOE criticism is not limited to energy questions.

Sen. John A. Durkin (D.-N.H.) and a number of women's groups have criticized the lack of women appointees to top jobs.

The Democratic National Committee murmurs about the number of appointees - such as Under Secretary Dale Myers - who served in key positions in the Nixon and Ford administrations.

Myers ran the manned space flight program at the National Aeronautical and Space Administration in the Nixon years. He was chosen, Schlesinger said, because he is "a first-rate industrial manager."

Not all DOE appointees are under fire.

Ellen Berman of the Consumer Federation of America says, "The general caliber is superior to what we would have had under Nixon and Ford." Berman and other public interest groups applaud appointments of John F. O'Leary as deputy secretary. Alvin Alm as assistant secretary of policy and planning and Charles Curtis and David J. Bardin to head key regulatory offices.

The appointment of John Deutch, an MIT chemist, to head the Office of Energy Research has also won high marks.

Schlesinger says the DOE nominees will meet the President's energy mandates. "Much of the criticism comes from the very fact that they do not stand for strong ideologies," he said: "I am distrustful of zealots and ideologues."