DOE nominee warned about management challenges

Former Sen. Spencer Abraham, R-Mich., President-elect Bush's choice for Energy secretary, breezed through a three-hour Senate confirmation hearing today, promising that the Bush administration will address the nation's gloomy energy forecast, while revealing few specifics. Abraham is nearly assured of committee and Senate approval.

Today's hearing was free of the vitriol that has characterized some of the other confirmation hearings this week. Abraham received praise from Democratic and Republican senators alike and won sympathy from senators who warned that Abraham has a difficult road ahead. "You are stepping into a quagmire," cautioned Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo.

Overall, Abraham revealed few specifics about the Bush administration's views on energy policy and security concerns at DOE.

"It would be premature for me to speculate on what actions the administration may or may not take," Abraham said.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Frank Murkowski, R- Alaska, warned: "You better have some answers after the 20th."

In a lighter moment, Abraham said that "new developments" have led him to drop his effort in the Senate to abolish the Energy Department. "I no longer support this legislation," he said.

Separately, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., asked Bush to do a better job of coordinating the federal agencies charged with crafting energy policy. "In the past, the three agencies with major roles affecting energy supplies... approached each issue from a perspective defined by their own specific, narrow agency interests without considering the impact on energy supply. That must change," Domenici wrote in a letter to Bush.

Domenici, a member of the Energy and Natural Resources panel and chairman of the Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, urged Bush to meet with the heads of the DOE, EPA and Interior Department to coordinate policy.

During his Senate Finance Committee confirmation hearing Wednesday, Treasury Secretary-designate O'Neill said he would be hesitant about a federal role in California's energy crisis. Quoting "an old mentor from OMB," O'Neill said, "When the president or Congress hangs out their shingles, they tend to get all the business."

O'Neill said he has not looked at all the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission options and rules for federal action, but explained if there are any ways for the federal government to assist state officials, "it should be quick."