The director of the Idaho National Laboratory says if it were up to him, he would keep President Obama’s energy secretary in the job even after Obama leaves office next month.
Director Mark Peters said he and the leaders of the nation’s 16 other national laboratories will sit down for the first time next Wednesday with members of President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team in Washington, D.C.
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz will be in that meeting, Peters said. Moniz is a nuclear physicist who took the job for Obama’s second term. The previous secretary under Obama, Steven Chu, also was a well-known scientist, having won the Nobel Prize in Physics.
“We’re not going to get a secretary like that,” Peters said. “But that doesn’t mean they’re not going to be smart.”
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CBS reported Wednesday that Ray Washburne is a leading candidate for the energy job when Trump takes office. Washburne is a member of Trump’s finance team, a former Chris Christie and Republican National Committee finance official, and the owner of a chain of Mexican restaurants in Texas.
Sen. Joe Manchin, a pro-coal Democrat from West Virginia, also is reportedly being considered. Texas oil tycoon Harold Hamm, who some initially reported was in the mix, recently told Fox Business that he’s not interested.
Trump’s choice for energy secretary is expected any day. The pick will give more clarity on how the Department of Energy and INL will operate over the next four years.
Current and former INL officials say it’s uncertain what a Trump administration will mean for the lab. They say INL’s focus on nuclear research — historically an energy source well-liked by Republicans — and its growing focus on control-systems cybersecurity probably won’t change drastically under Trump.
But officials say the lab’s clean-energy research division might require significant adaptation under a president who has said he is skeptical of human-caused climate change, and has made disparaging comments about renewables such as wind turbines.
“Look, with a President Trump in office, I’m sure there are going to be some changes,” Peters told an audience this week at the Greater Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce.
Peters said he hopes Trump’s pick will have a “broad view” of the energy system.
Trump’s Department of Energy transition team will be in a “fact-finding mode” at Wednesday’s meeting, learning more about the inner workings of the DOE, its budget and the research offered at each lab, Peters told the Post Register. He said the directors are expected to make short pitches about thir labs’ expertise.
Tom Pyle is leading Trump’s DOE transition effort. Pyle is president of the American Energy Alliance, a public policy advocacy group that has pushed for the Keystone XL pipeline.