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Innovation Should Be Central to Next Energy Secretary’s Agenda

Now that President Obama has nominated candidates to head the CIA and the Departments of Defense, State, and Treasury in his second term, attention now shifts to his choices for the rest of the Cabinet, including Energy Secretary. A Politico report today suggests that the two leading candidates are former North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan and Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter. Both are eminently well-qualified for the position, but as noted in a previous blog post, “a clear understanding of the innovation process and an eye towards continuing reforming the DOE” should be of prime importance to the next Energy Secretary.

The Politico article starts by observing that Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s stock has risen as a possible successor to Secretary Chu after being passed over for the top Defense Department job, while according to a former senior DOE official, “the White House ‘has only one name’ for the [Energy] post, and that’s Dorgan.” To be sure, Senator Dorgan has a strong background in energy policy as a former member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and leader of the Energy Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center. And while Politico points out that Carter “lacks a distinctive energy policy background,” the article observes that he could “bring attention to the department’s often overlooked but immense responsibility overseeing the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile and efforts to pursue nonproliferation agreements.”

Nevertheless, the most vital asset either Carter or Dorgan could bring to the table is an appreciation for the importance of energy innovation. U.S. clean energy innovation policy is at an inflection point and the next Energy Secretary should ideally have their hands full with an aggressive policy agenda. For example, as ITIF has recommended, institutional reform should be a priority for the next Secretary, including explicitly making energy innovation the mission of the DOE, eliminating DOE-wide energy innovation micromanagement, and unleashing the National Labs by strengthening the GOCO model. Furthermore, the Obama administration made important strides in energy policy in his first administration and his second administration should not be a time to slacken that pace. ITIF has also laid out important energy policy agenda items for the next four years, including increasing investment in clean energy RD&D, reforming public research institutions to better support clean energy technology commercialization, and establishing “smart” clean energy deployment policies.

For his part, Senator Dorgan has spoken about the need formuch more investment in innovation,” while Carter would certainly have a unique perspective as Energy Secretary, coming from a Defense Department that has been increasingly involved in the development of clean energy technologies like advanced batteries and biofuels. Ultimately, the nation urgently needs an innovation-minded Energy Secretary with an eye for reform. Hopefully, Carter, Dorgan, or whoever the president ends up choosing, will fit that bill.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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