Energy Chief Defends U.S. Green-Energy Loans in Resignation

Energy Secretary Steven Chu, whose tenure was marked by questions about a troubled green-energy program, said in a letter to department employees today that he plans to step down and return to California and academics.

Chu was criticized by Republicans for supporting Solyndra LLC, a solar-panel maker that received a $535 million loan guarantee and went bankrupt two years later. He defended his support for clean energy in the message, which exceeds 50 paragraphs in length.

“In the scientific world, people are judged by the content of their ideas,” Chu wrote. “Advances are made with new insights, but the final arbitrator of any point of view are experiments that seek the unbiased truth, not information cherrypicked to support a particular point of view. The power of our work is derived from this foundation.”

Chu, 64, was a career scientist and co-winner of the Nobel Prize for physics when he joined the Cabinet in January 2009. He led a team of scientists who studied ways to cap BP Plc’s Macondo well, which gushed crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days in 2010.

“As a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, Steve brought to the Energy Department a unique understanding of both the urgent challenge presented by climate change and the tremendous opportunity that clean energy represents for our economy,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.

Possible Successors

Possible successors to Chu include former Senator Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat; former Democratic governors Jennifer Granholm of Michigan and Chet Culver of Iowa; and Ernest Moniz, a physics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, according to published reports.

Chu also directed the allocation of about $35 billion in stimulus spending for clean-energy programs -- an amount that exceeded the department’s annual budget. That money included the loans paid to Solyndra.

“Secretary Chu has led the Energy Department at a time when our nation made the single largest investment ever in clean energy and doubled our use of renewables,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, a Washington-based environmental group. “He has proven himself to be one of the world’s greatest scientists and an ally in the fight against climate change.”

Chu said he plans to stay on as secretary beyond an advanced energy research summit scheduled later this month, and may stay until a successor is confirmed.

“I would like to return to an academic life of teaching and research, but will still work to advance the missions that we have been working on together for the last four years,” Chu wrote.

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