Bush names "problem solver" Bodman as energy secretary

Friday, December 10th 2004, 8:59 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush picked a new energy secretary Friday and dubbed him ``a problem solver'' _ a talent Samuel W. Bodman will need as he deals with high oil prices, nuclear waste and a Congress unwilling to pass the president's long-term energy plan.

The announcement filled one of the last two vacancies in Bush's second-term Cabinet, leaving only the secretary of health and human services. Bush is replacing nine of his 15 Cabinet members.

The selection of Bodman came as a surprise to most in the energy field and to many in Congress, but it was widely applauded.

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee that will consider Bodman's nomination, predicted a ``swift and smooth'' confirmation.

Over the past four years, Bodman, 66, has been the No. 2 official at the Commerce Department and, more recently, the Treasury Department. He replaces Spencer Abraham, the former Michigan senator.

Bodman is a former president of Fidelity Investments and the former chairman and chief executive officer of Cabot Corp., a chemicals and specialty materials company. He has degrees in chemical engineering and taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In 2001 he joined the Bush administration as the deputy secretary at Commerce, and a year ago he moved over to the Treasury Department with the same title. Outgoing Commerce Secretary Don Evans, a longtime Bush friend, recommended him strongly for the energy job.

Bush praised Bodman's management skills and noted his scientific background. ``In academics, in business and in government Sam Bodman has shown himself to be a problem solver who knows how to set goals and he knows how to reach them,'' said Bush.

One of Bodman's major challenges will be to sell Congress on Bush's energy priorities, including one of the president's longtime goals of opening an Arctic wildlife refuge in Alaska to oil drilling.

After unveiling an outline of a broad energy strategy 3 1/2 years ago, Bush has yet to see Congress agree on comprehensive energy legislation despite soaring oil prices, a massive 2003 power blackout and concern about natural gas prices and possible future shortages.

Bush pledged Friday to renew his push for energy legislation when the new Congress convenes next month and to ``pursue more energy close to home in our own country ... so that we're less dependent on energy from unstable parts or the world.''

Other challenges facing Bodman will be to find a way to untangle legal and budget problems that have threatened the proposal for a nuclear waste dump in Nevada. Congress this year refused to provide enough money to keep the Yucca Mountain project on schedule, and a federal court ordered a review of proposed radiation standards for the site.

Bodman also will face growing concern _ and probably complaints from Capitol Hill _ about high energy costs with record winter heating bills expected to hit households across the country.

On Friday, state officials in charge of administering energy assistance to low-income families reported that they expected 5 million households to seek government help to pay heating bills this winter, the most in a decade.

Both heating oil and natural gas prices are at record highs this winter. Although crude prices have receded somewhat in recent weeks, they edged up again Friday past $42 a barrel as OPEC producers decided to cut output by one million barrels a day to stave of further price declines.

Bodman's selection was greeted with approval across the energy and business sectors. Representatives from the electricity, nuclear and natural gas industries cited his technical, management and financial background.

Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Science Committee, lauded Bodman's experience in industry and government, his ``management skills, and boundless intellectual curiosity.''