Former MI Senator Named Energy Secretary

In what could be called a dark horse choice following weeks of speculation that one of several energy heavyweights would be tapped to fill the Energy Department Cabinet seat for President-elect George W. Bush, former Michigan Sen. Spencer Abraham (R) was nominated to serve as energy secretary yesterday. Abraham was defeated last November in his first re-election bid.

"Sen. Abraham knows the issues of energy policy, and he understands the issues and challenges before us," said Bush. "He is ready to join us in seeking energy security for the United States. National security depends on energy security." Bush said it was a "testament to the special place that America is, that a grandson of poor Lebanese immigrants" will serve in the Cabinet.

"Many significant Energy Department issues face us at this time, ranging from the adequacy of supply, to affordability, to the development of new technologies, to the issue of security at our facilities, and more," said Abraham. "I look forward to helping the president-elect effectively address these challenges in the days ahead."

Sen. Frank H. Murkowski (AK), who chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, called the 48-year-old Abraham's selection "great."

He said, "The Energy Department is a difficult one to manage, but I have every confidence that Sen. Abraham is up to the job." Murkowski has been critical of the lack of an energy policy in the Clinton administration, and has been working on an energy package to send to Congress in the new session.

Saying he will give Abraham his support and confidence, Murkowski said, "I look forward to working with the new administration and with the new secretary to produce an energy policy that maintains a balanced use of all our resources while working on conservation and moving to alternative fuels and renewable energy."

Although the title of energy secretary appears to carry a lot of weight, this actually has not been the case since the Cabinet-level post was formed in 1977. Its actual mission is to "foster a secure and reliable energy system that is environmentally and economically sustainable, to be a responsible steward of the nation's nuclear weapons, to clean up our own facilities and to support continued U.S. leadership in science and technology."

For instance, current Energy Secretary Bill Richardson has been caught up in nuclear safety at facilities in New Mexico along with many nuclear waste depository issues. However, the energy secretary's role may evolve and take on greater importance in the next administration.

Abraham has not been directly involved in energy issues, either with his work as a U.S. senator or before then. He was the first Michigan Republican elected to the Senate in 22 years. In his one Senate term, he served on the Senate's Budget Committee as well as the Judiciary Committee, where he chaired the subcommittee on immigration. He also served on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee where he chaired the subcommittee on manufacturing and competitiveness. He also was a member of the Small Business Committee.

Along with his Senate committee assignments, Abraham was a member of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control and was on the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

In his sparse energy-related voting record, Abraham voted against keeping automobile fuel efficiency standards in September 1999, a vote not surprising considering he represented the largest automobile-manufacturing state in the country. He also voted yes on more funding for forest roads and fish habitat (September 1999); defunding renewable and solar energy (June 1999); transportation demonstration projects (March 1998); and approving a nuclear waste depository (April 1997).

A Michigan native, Abraham attended Michigan State University and then Harvard Law School, where he founded the Federalist Society and a conservative law journal. At 30, he became a Republican state chairman, and then in 1990, he joined former President George Bush's administration as deputy chief of staff to former Vice President Dan Quayle.

Skip Horvath, president of the Natural Gas Supply Association (NGSA), said he thought Bush's selection of Abraham for DOE was a good pick. "I think he's going to be good. He comes from a state [Michigan] that is an energy-producing state, so he understands the producing issues pretty well," he noted. In addition to producers, "his state really represents all of the other interests of the natural gas industry" --- distribution, pipelines and storage.

Horvath disagreed with critics of Bush's choice for DOE, many whom cited the former senator's lack of direct experience with energy issues. "Somebody from Michigan has energy experience by definition because his state has all the components of the natural gas industry" within its boundaries, he said. "So we think he's pretty well rounded."

Bush also selected Norman Mineta, current secretary of the commerce department, to be secretary of the Department of Transportation, which oversees the Office of Pipeline Safety.

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