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Steven Chu, Nobel Prize-winning physicist, to be energy chief

President-elect Barack Obama is set to tap a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Steven Chu, as energy secretary, according to published reports.

Chu, 60, is director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a proponent of solar energy, biofuels and curbs on Earth-warming emissions – three features central to Obama's alt-energy and environmental platforms during the campaign.

"Conservation and energy efficiency will remain for the next several decades the most important thing the world can do to get on a sustainable energy path," Chu told ScientificAmerican.com last year.

Enviros applauded the appointment, noting that it signals Obama is serious about science policy, which the Bush administration was accused of ignoring at best and at worst of taking steps to stifle in such areas as embryonic stem-cell research.

Chu's “experience seems to dovetail perfectly with the president-elect’s commitment to bringing new energy technology to market in a timely fashion,” Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, told the New York Times. “An understanding of the art of the possible in energy technology will be critical to the development of a cost-effective climate change policy.”

Chu, who shared the Nobel 11 years ago for research on cooling and trapping atoms using lasers, would also be in charge of the country’s nuclear stockpile. Obama has indicated that he wants the U.S. to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which bans nuclear explosions.

Rounding out his energy and enviro team, Obama plans to name New Jersey Environmental Commissioner Lisa Jackson, 46, as chief of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and former Clinton EPA administer Carol Browner as "energy czar," a position newly created to coordinate all federal environmental and energy policy, the Times reports. 

If confirmed as expected, Jackson – who worked in the Clinton EPA -- will become the first black to head the environmental agency. Browner, who turns 53 next week, was the longest-serving EPA administrator, filling the role during both of Clinton's terms. During her tenure, she fought efforts by the then- GOP-controlled Congress to water down the Clean Water Act and worked with lawmakers (both Dems and Republicans) to strengthen the Safe Drinking Water and Food Quality Protection acts. Earlier in her career, she worked at Citizen Action and also served as a top aide to then-Sen. Al Gore.

In a related pick, Obama today is expected to name former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) as health secretary.

Image of Steven Chu/Lawrence Berkeley National Lab

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