O'Leary: Only Another Shock Will Change Energy Policies

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- The price of energy is artificially depressed in this country, Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary said in an interview on the eve of her departure from office, and Americans will not be serious about conservation or energy independence until the price goes up or there is another shock.

O'Leary also said members of Congress do not care nearly so much about making the right technology choices in handling nuclear waste and weapons as they do about jobs in their districts.

And no future secretary of energy will undertake trade missions to foreign governments, because of the flak she caught for her trip expenses, she said, and as a result, America's competitors will march into countries that want new technology or services and are accustomed to dealing government to government and "go laughing all the way into the next meeting with the minister." O'Leary said she was exhausted by the last four years and that anyone who stayed longer in the job was "probably certifiable." She said she would continue working with black organizations, especially those concerned with education in science and other fields. President Clinton has nominated Federico Pena, who has been secretary of transportation for the last four years, to replace her. In the last few days she has renewed a campaign of "openness," announcing that thousands of films of early nuclear weapons tests would be declassified, and giving information on plutonium left by the United States in South Vietnam 20 years ago. Whatever follows, she said, the culture of secrecy has been broken. O'Leary was interviewed in her seventh-floor office at the Energy Department, with its northern wall of windows giving both a stunning view of the castle-like Smithsonian headquarters and a perpetual chill. She, like her predecessors, uses an energy no-no to supplement the inadequate central heating system: an electric space heater. O'Leary, who served in the Energy Department in the Carter administration and was an executive at the electric company Northern States Power when President Clinton named her secretary of energy, said she did not want another government job. She said that she had tried within the constraints of the budget to nurture alternative fuel and energy technologies. The prevailing view, she said, is that "somehow, miraculously, the market will present itself" for technologies like fuel cells, which make electricity from liquid hydrocarbons, and photovoltaic cells, which can make electricity from sunlight. …