U.S. energy secretary to face winter heating crisis
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The next U.S. energy
secretary will have to deal with the coldest winter the country
has seen in years, skyrocketing heating bills and possible
interruptions in natural gas and electricity supplies.
If Republican George W. Bush is sworn in as president in
late January, several members of Congress have been mentioned
as possible choices for the top Energy Department job.
They include Democrat Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana,
Republican Sen. Slade Gorton of Washington and Democratic Rep.
Ralph Hall of Texas. Gorton lost his job last month in a close
race to high-tech millionaire Maria Cantwell.
Other names circulating among Washington insiders as
possible Bush picks for the nation's top energy post are
Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, Texas Railroad Commissioner Tony
Garza and Kenneth Lay, who heads the giant natural gas firm
Bush spokesman Ray Sullivan would not confirm who is being
considered for the post, but said Bush will "move quickly" to
fill cabinet positions as soon as the election contest is
resolved. "We recognize that energy prices have a significant
impact on the economy, and therefore it's important for the
next president to put an energy policy in place quickly,"
No serious names have surfaced for the post from the camp
of Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic nominee who has
challenged Florida's certification of Bush as winner of the
state's 25 electoral college votes.
The new president will have to move fast to put his energy
secretary in place to tackle anger from consumers over rising
The issue is not entirely new. Almost a year to the day
before the upcoming Jan. 20 inauguration, current energy
secretary Bill Richardson was preparing for several town hall
meetings in the Northeast to hear complaints from consumers
about what were then record high prices and low supplies of
This time around the Energy Department is predicting the
average family will be stuck with natural gas bills 62 percent
higher from last winter and heating oil costs up 38 percent.
Lawmakers on short list
Picking a member of Congress would be a smart political
move by Bush, because an energy nominee who is a fellow
lawmaker would likely win easy approval from the U.S. Senate,
according to congressional sources.
If he becomes president, Bush's selection for energy
secretary is expected to get tough scrutiny from Democrats to
see if the nominee has close ties to the oil industry.
Bush and his running mate Dick Cheney have been accused of
being in the pocket of multinational oil firms because of their
former employment in the energy sector and the huge political
contributions oil firms gave their presidential campaign.
Choosing a Democrat would show that Bush is trying to reach
across party lines, and also remove a Democratic lawmaker from
Congress to increase the slim vote margin the Republicans will
have in the House and Senate.
Hall is the ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Power
Subcommittee and supports many of Bush's energy policies,
including the controversial plan to allow oil and natural gas
drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Hall, 77, would seriously consider any request to head the
Energy Department, Hall's spokeswoman said.
Breaux, whose home state of Louisiana is a large producer
of oil and natural gas, has also said he would consider serving
in a Bush administration as energy secretary.
The 62-year-old Breaux said he has not been officially
asked to come aboard, but would probably be more useful staying
in the Senate.
Gorton, who is 72, lost his Senate seat in the November
election after serving three terms. He has dealt with a number
of energy issues as a member of the Senate Energy Committee.
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