Obama close to naming energy secretary

Sources say nod will go to physicist Steven Chu, who runs one of DOE's main renewable energy laboratories. Browner expected as climate czar.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President-elect Barack Obama is likely to name Dr. Steven Chu, a physicist who runs the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, as his new Energy Secretary, three Democratic officials close to the transition told CNN.

The three officials said the announcement is expected to come next week in Chicago and that Obama will also unveil Carol Browner, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in the Clinton administration, as the newly-created "climate czar" inside the White House itself.

Chu won the 1997 Nobel prize in physics and is highly respected in energy circles.

In addition to having a long history as a nuclear research facility, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, located in Berkeley, Calif., is one of the Energy Department's main centers for renewable energy research.

Obama touted renewable energy in his campaign and pledged to spend $15 billion a year making the technologies commercially viable.

The Energy Department handles much more than renewable energy.

Most of its budget is spent maintaining the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile, and cleaning up after decades of nuclear weapons research and testing.

The agency also handles fossil fuel and nuclear power research, runs most federal energy efficiency programs, and does a fair amount of "pure" science research in areas like physics, chemistry and biology.

Some Democrats have privately expressed concern that Chu has no political experience as he takes on the monumental task of passing a landmark energy reform bill early next year.

While Browner is seen as a shrewd inside player who could help the incoming Energy Secretary navigate Capitol Hill, Obama will face questions about how effective his team will be going up against oil companies and other special interests that do not want to change the status quo.

"Energy is going to be a huge fight," said one Democratic official close to the transition. "They need someone with the gravitas and force of personality to make it happen."

Democrats in recent days have privately floated some other big names for Energy Secretary, including California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

But a source close to Schwarzenegger told CNN that the governor wants to serve out the rest of his term in the Golden State.

A source close to Powell told CNN the retired general will take "no formal Cabinet role" in an Obama administration, but is leaving the door open to an informal troubleshooting role - such as Mideast envoy - if the incoming president has a specific mission that needs to be filled.

-- CNNMoney.com staff writer Steve Hargreaves contributed to this report. To top of page

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