Chu to step down as Energy Secretary

-A A +A

Energy Secretary Steven Chu is stepping down.

The Energy Department, which runs the Los Alamos National Laboratory, said Friday, that Chu has offered his resignation to President Barack Obama. Chu won a Nobel Prize in physics but came under questioning for his handling of a solar energy loan.

Chu is a former director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. He drew fire from Republicans who criticized his handling of a $528 million federal loan to solar panel maker Solyndra, which later went bankrupt, laying off its 1,100 workers.

The White House said Chu retained Obama’s confidence, but Chu was widely expected to leave following Obama’s re-election last fall.

 Chu intends to resign once a successor is confirmed, according to a memo sent to Energy Department staff and obtained by website POLITICO. He was the last of President Barack Obama’s long-serving Cabinet members to announce plans to leave or stay for the second term.

 “While I will always remain dedicated to the missions of the department, I informed the president of my decision a few days after the election that Jean and I were eager to return to California,” Chu wrote. “I would like to return to an academic life of teaching and research but will still work to advance the missions that we have been working on together for the last four years.

“In the short term, I plan to stay on as secretary past the ARPA-E Summit at the end of February. I may stay beyond that time so that I can leave the department in the hands of the new secretary,” he added.

Lab director Charlie McMillan said, “It was a pleasure working with such an outstanding scientist leading the Department. In particular, Secretary Chu’s passion for energy security had a special resonance at Los Alamos. We will miss the Secretary’s enthusiasm and intellect at headquarters, but I’m sure his contributions to the nation will continue in other avenues. I congratulate the Secretary and wish him all the best.”

Possible successors include Sen. Byron Dorgan, former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, former Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

President Obama issued the following statement on Chu's resignation:

“I want to thank Secretary Chu for his dedicated service on behalf of the American people. As a Nobel Prize winning scientist, Steve brought to the Energy Department a unique understanding of both the urgent challenge presented by climate change and the tremendous opportunity that clean energy represents for our economy. And during his time as Secretary, Steve helped my Administration move America towards real energy independence. Over the past four years, we have doubled the use of renewable energy, dramatically reduced our dependence on foreign oil, and put our country on a path to win the global race for clean energy jobs. Thanks to Steve, we also expanded support for our brightest engineers and entrepreneurs as they pursue groundbreaking innovations that could transform our energy future. I am grateful that Steve agreed to join in my Cabinet and I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

Prior to his appointment, Chu was the director of the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, where he led the lab in pursuit of alternative and renewable energy technologies. He also taught at the University of California as a Professor of Physics and Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology. Previously, he held positions at Stanford University and AT&T Bell Laboratories.

Chu was born in St. Louis, Mo. in 1948. He is married to Dr. Jean Chu, who holds a doctorate in physics from Oxford and has served as chief of staff to two Stanford University presidents as well as dean of admissions. Chu has two grown sons, Geoffrey and Michael, by a previous marriage.