Energy Chief's Mission Boosted; Lead Role Set in Massive Expansion of Renewable Resources

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Byline: Eric Burgeson, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

No sooner had Secretary Steven Chu settled into his office at the Energy Department than Congress doubled his budget in the economic stimulus bill. Just as he was getting his arms around the basics of his new job, he was handed a whole new portfolio - a series of programs that, in effect, will transform his agency to the trendsetter it's supposed to be.

Welcome to Washington, Mr. Chu. You have a lot to accomplish - and fast. Unfortunately, getting it all done will be a lot harder than the rhetoric suggests.

Even before the stimulus was passed, the Energy Department had a sprawling mission. About a third of its budget was devoted to developing and maintaining our nation's nuclear weapons stockpile. Another third involved cleaning up the sites where our country built its nuclear weapons program. It also had its hand in developing the next generation of clean energy technologies.

In other words, the energy secretary traditionally presides over a diverse array of issues that on any given day would be a challenge for any new leader. Now, however, the department has abruptly moved from that particular set of activities - mostly in the nuclear-weapons-related business - to taking a lead role in a massive effort to expand renewable energy.

If history is any guide, Mr. Chu will have a tough time balancing the new priorities while keeping older ones on task.

Most people by now know that the Energy Department will have to struggle to find ways to keep its stimulus dollars going out the door to the right places. The bill recently Feb. 17 by President Obama deluges the department with more than $40 billion, nearly doubling its budget. The money will go to many kinds of renewable energy projects though four offices within the department.

Implementing this huge an agenda would be backbreaking under any circumstances. …