It’s the name game at DOE

By Kennedy Maize
It’s time for the latest round of the name game, this time focusing on who President Elect Obama will pick to head the Department of Energy. Clearly, the the DOE pick is a second-level decision, after economics and national security.

In fact, DOE really doesn’t have much to do with energy. Around 20% of DOE’s $20+ billion budget goes for “energy,” and much of that is basic science that used to be part of NSF. DOE has almost nothing to do with electricity.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service have far more to say about electric energy in the US than DOE. Interior has far more to say about coal, oil, and gas. What they all have to say isn’t always to my taste, but they are players. Bodmanland is not.
Let’s start a contest. Who is going to to be the next energy secretary? Here are my top-three entries. Feel free to add your own, and we will see who got it right when the announcements are made.
These picks are not based on my wishes, but my sussing out of the scene. If I could name the choice, it would be Al Franken. A comedian would fit in nicely at Forrestal.
Maize’s No. 1 pick: Phil Sharp, the absolutely correct choice from a political standpoint. PhD (this seems to be important in Obamastan). Former important House player from Indiana and House Energy and Commerce subcommittee chairman, former Kennedy School academic, currently major domo at a major think tank (Resources for the Future, in Washington). Phil’s a moderate pragmatist in the Obama mold, and has, to my knowledge, no important enemies.

No. 2: Ernie Moniz of the MIT physics department (a long-time ally of John Deutch of MIT’s chemistry department and Carter and Clinton-era principal). Moniz energy undersecretary in Clinton’s DOE, and in the White House science policy office for Clinton before that. He’s smart, knows the territory, and also has no significant enemies that I’m aware of. The fact that he actually knows something about energy is not necessarily disqualifying. Expertise has never been a prerequisite at DOE (Charles Duncan, James Edwards, John Herrington, Bill Richardson, Federico Pena, Spence Abraham, to name a few). Nor has it been a guarantor of success: Jim Schlesinger, Don Hodel, Hazel O’Leary, Sam Bodman.

No. 3: John Bryson, former CEO of Edison International (Southern California Edison), former member of the California Public Utilities Commission, and a founder of NRDC. He’s smart, wiley, and ingratiating. He’s got some of the attributes of the Cheshire Cat. I wouldn’t pick him for anything, but I’m not part of the Obama administration.

Dark horse longshot: Betsy Moler of Exelon (ComEd and PECO). Moler is a former deputy energy secretary who should have won the job when Bill Richardson stepped down. She’s also a former FERC chair, former Senate Energy Committee key aide, and put herself through law school while working as a Senate clerk. Her rabbi is John Rowe, who has solid Obama contacts in Chicago. The downside is that she’s making wheelbarrows of money after years of comfortable but limited income in government. Also, Moler’s a bit tarred with the ludicrous Clinton administration (Richardson) pursuit of the baseless Wen Ho Lee spying charges.

Feel free to weigh in with your choices or observations or critiques of my choices. Why not have fun when the new folks come to town?