President-elect Barack Obama named Nobel Prize-winning scientist and noted renewable energy advocate Steven Chu as his choice to lead the U.S. Department of Energy on Monday, calling the appointment "a signal to all that my administration will value science" in building a "new hybrid economy."

Obama also named his appointment of Lisa Jackson as the chief of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Nancy Sutley as head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Carol Browner as head of a newly-created White House position to coordinate energy, environment and climate change policies across federal agencies.

"To control our own destiny, America must develop new forms of energy and new ways to use it," Obama said in a Monday afternoon press conference to confirm the appointments, which were widely reported last week (see Obama Creates an Energy Policy Troika).

The choice of Steven Chu, the head of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, to head the energy department has been widely hailed by renewable energy and green technology leaders as a coup for their industries (see Green Light post).

"It is so incredibly important to have an Energy Secretary who ‘gets' the enormity of the climate-change challenges we face and knows the key role that clean, renewable energy plays in addressing those challenges," said Mike Splinter, president and CEO of solar module manufacturing equipment maker Applied Materials Inc. (NDSQ: AMAT), in a statement.

"The nominations of Dr. Steven Chu and Carol Brown er are excellent signals that the new Administration is going to be very serious about developing a national energy policy which is strong on alternative fuels, on using domestic resources and on conservation," said oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens in a statement. Pickens has spent $2 billion on a 4-gigawatt wind project in Texas, though he has since scaled the project back due to financing issues (see Knocking the Wind Out of Pickens).

Among his efforts on renewable energy, Chu co-led an effort that won the lab part of the $500 million made available by oil company BP in 2007 to set up the Energy Biosciences Institute, a group seeking to develop and commercialize biofuel and other technologies.

During the press conference, Chu promised that the energy department, under his leadership, would be "a major force in meeting the challenges" of fighting global climate change and rebuilding a sagging economy through investments in research and development of renewable energy, energy efficiency and modernizing the nation's electricity grid.

"We must repair the economy and put us on a path towards sustainable energy," Chu said.

Obama's other leadership picks have also brought approval from green technology industry leaders.

Browner, former administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton administration, "has an intimate understanding of the nexus and inseparability between energy and environment," Applied Materials board member and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Energy Andy Karsner said in a statement. "Her leadership at the White House will be instrumental in elevating and coordinating these critical issues across the federal government."

As for Sutley, a deputy mayor of Los Angeles for energy and environment, Obama said Tuesday that she will play a role in "helping our government be more efficient in coordinating our efforts" among state and local governments.

And Jackson, who headed the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, "shares my commitment to restoring the EPA's role" in protecting the environment, Obama said.

Obama said he would name his choice to head the Department of the Interior later this week. The department oversees solar power plant development, wind farm building, mining and other activities by private companies on vast tracks of federal lands, especially in western United States, and it is viewed as playing an important role in renewable energy development (see BLM Lifts Moratorium on Public Lands for Solar).

"The Interior Department will play a critical role in meeting the challenges we discussed today," Obama said.

Obama also warned that, while he didn't see a conflict between growing the economy and protecting the environment, creating a "new energy economy" won't happen overnight.

"But we can begin that work right now," Obama said. "Now we must have the will to act, and act boldly." 

Tags: energy, obama, stevechu, whitehouse