Presidential Inauguration

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Associated Press
President Barack Obama listens to Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

Obama’s Cabinet: Energy, Interior, Transportation, Agriculture

January 21, 2009
by Christopher Coats
Reflecting his call for more attention to environmental efforts and a desire for a greener economy, President Barack Obama has chosen several Cabinet members who have extensive experience researching and advocating alternative energy and preservation. This is the final part of a three-part series.

Department of Energy: Steven Chu

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Marking the first time a Nobel Prize winner has been picked as a member of a presidential Cabinet, physicist Steven Chu was selected to serve as Energy Secretary.

Winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize for the "development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light," Chu reportedly began concentrating on energy issues on his own time. He eventually became head of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a facility responsible for various kinds of scientific research, including energy-efficient technology.

Chu has dedicated himself to making the national laboratory "the world leader in alternative and renewable energy research, particularly the development of carbon-neutral sources of energy."

Chu received a warm reception during his hearing and was confirmed as Energy Secretary in a Senate voice vote on Tuesday, just four hours after Obama was sworn in.

Department of Transportation: Ray LaHood

Fulfilling his promise to include a Republican in his Cabinet, President Obama picked fellow Illinois politician Ray LaHood as Secretary of the Department of Transportation. The first Arab-American to be appointed to Obama’s Cabinet, LaHood entered the United States Congress in 1994, representing a large Lebanese-American community in Peoria; his term ended with the most recent session. LaHood is the second Illinois politician to be chosen to fill a Cabinet vacancy; he joins Arne Duncan, the recently confirmed Education Secretary.

Known for his moderate views and candor with the media, LaHood is likely to be an active member of an administration who has pledged to support massive public transportation and infrastructure projects.

According to the Chicago Tribune, LaHood has set himself apart from fellow Republicans with his support for Amtrak and other public transportation efforts.

After a short delay due to questions surrounding LaHood's links to William F. Cellini Sr., an Illinois businessman accused of crimes in connection with the investigation of impeached Governor Ron Blagojevich, the former Congressman was confirmed as Secretary of Transportation on Thursday, January 22.

Department of the Interior: Ken Salazar

First-term Senator Ken Salazar was nominated as Secretary of the Interior after four years in office and a lifetime spent addressing agricultural and land preservation matters.

A fifth-generation Colorado native, Salazar is one of eight children who grew up on a ranch without electricity or running water. As an attorney, he concentrated on environmental and water preservation issues, and has been a strong advocate of alternative energy as a both a private citizen and public figure.

From 1990 until 1994, he ran the Colorado Natural Resources Department, where he shifted lottery money towards land preservation and acted as the state’s attorney general from 2000 until he beat Peter Coors for the Senate seat in 2004.

Tapped to take over a department plagued by corruption and missteps in recent years, Salazar is viewed as a reformer who will focus on preservation, alternative energy and reducing the U.S. dependency on foreign oil.

Popular among his fellow senators, Salazar’s confirmation proceedings were notable for their clear lack of drama, with many Republican committee members not even bothering to show up for the hearing. Salazar was confirmed as Interior Secretary on Tuesday with a Senate voice vote just four hours after President Obama was sworn in.

Department of Agriculture: Tom Vilsack

An early candidate for the 2008 Democratic nomination, Tom Vilsack was selected as the nominee for Agriculture Secretary in early December.

Vilsack ran a three-month campaign for president, dropped out and served as Hillary Clinton’s campaign co-chairman, and then actively supported Obama. He is a career attorney who entered politics by chance. When the mayor of his adopted hometown of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, was shot and killed during a city council meeting, Vilsack ended up as his successor; he went on to successfully run for State Senate and then governor. He has spent the last semester as a political fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Public Affairs.

An advocate of biofuels, Vilsack is expected to concentrate on environmental and energy issues, with a focus on easing restrictions on importing and creating sources of alternative energy sources.

Vilsack encountered little resistance during his confirmation hearing; he was confirmed as Agriculture Secretary in a unanimous Senate voice vote four hours after President Obama was sworn in.
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