Energy Secretary Resigns With Harsh Words For Climate Change Skeptics

By Jordan Mammo email: , Feb 02, 2013 11:07 AM EST

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu ended his tenure on Friday, but he isn't going away quietly.

In his resignation letter, Chu thanked his staff, noted the progress the department has made, and also swiped those who've criticized the Obama administration's emphasis on renewable energy.

"In the last two years, the private sector, including Warren Buffett, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Google, have announced major investments in clean energy," wrote Chu, according to the Huffington Post. "Originally skeptical lenders and investors now see that renewable energy will [be] profitable. These investors are voting where it counts the most -- with their wallet."

Quoting Michelangelo, Chu added that "'The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.'"

Setting high goals for the Energy Department proved Chu's ambition, but it also opened him up to attacks if and when anything didn't go according to plan.

The solar energy company Solyndra was one such example. After receiving a $535 loan guarantee from the government, the company couldn't develop a product cheap enough to become successful on the open market. It went bankrupt a couple of years later in 2011.

"This is disgusting. This happened under your nose," said Louisiana Republican Steve Scalise to Chu during a hearing with the House Energy and Commerce committee. "I'll hope you'll go back to your agency and have some heads roll.

To properly assess Chu's tenure as Energy Secretary, however, one must take into account the fact that before his term, the Energy Department didn't really focus on energy issues at all. It was primarily focused on preserving and maintaining America's nuclear weapons cache. The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act flooded the department with nearly $40 million to spend on energy-related projects, something it was never responsible for in the past.

"He was given the thankless task of spending $40 billion on energy technology very quickly at a department with little existing capacity to do so productively, so it's something of a miracle there weren't more Solyndras," said Paul Bledsoe, an energy aide during the Clinton years, to the New York Times.

For his part, Chu defended the agency's work during his years at the top, saying that all of the attention gravitated towards failures instead of the successes.

"While critics try hard to discredit the program, the truth is that only one percent of the companies we funded went bankrupt. That one percent has gotten more attention than the 99 percent that have not," said Chu. "The test for America's policy makers will be whether they are willing to accept a few failures in exchange for many successes. America's entrepreneurs and innovators who are leaders in global clean energy race understand that not every risk can -- or should -- be avoided."

Of course, the wisdom (or lack thereof) of Chu's other energy investments won't be known until years down the road. He established projects that are currently exploring the potential for using lasers to drill for geothermal energy, manufacturing cheaper solar cells, developing more powerful lithium-ion batteries, and lowering the costs of electric cars.

Despite any highs or lows, the motivation driving Chu's vision at the Energy Department was clear at the outset: Global warming is real, dangerous, and needs to be dealt with in an aggressive manner. No one knows for sure the exact consequences of a warming planet, but Chu believes the situation binds our generation to an important, urgent opportunity.  

"Ultimately we have a moral responsibility to the most innocent victims of adverse climate change. Those who will suffer the most are the people who are the most innocent: the world's poorest citizens and those yet to be born," Chu added. "There is an ancient Native American saying: 'We do not inherit the land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.' A few short decades later, we don't want our children to ask, 'What were our parents thinking? Didn't they care about us?'"

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