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United States

Wind lobby pleased with new helmsman, Pena now energy secretary

Federico Peña has been confirmed as US Secretary of Energy. The nomination was welcome news for lobbyists facing a battle once again this fiscal year to keep research and development funding levels as high as possible.

Federico Peña has finally been confirmed as US Secretary of Energy. He won confirmation on March 12 with a 99-1 vote in the US Senate, the body that confirms Cabinet members after they have been nominated by the president. Although Peña, 49, had wide support for his nomination, it had been stalled for almost a month by US Senators who were angry that President Bill Clinton was opposing controversial plans to have the federal government store nuclear waste in Nevada. Peña, a former Secretary of Transportation and Mayor of Denver, succeeds Hazel O'Leary.

The nomination was welcome news for lobbyists facing a battle once again this fiscal year to keep research and development funding levels as high as possible. "We're ecstatic -- we need leadership at the helm of the Department of Energy especially now that we've started appropriations," says Karl Gavel, former director of government relations for the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and now with the Geothermal Energy Association. Gawell, who has worked with Peña previously, said he has integrity and is an excellent administrator even if he has little background in energy. "I think he will bring the right people on board at DOEƉ and keep some of the right people." Gawell will be succeeded at AWEA by Jaime Steve, a former energy and clean air lobbyist for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Opposing Pena's nomination was Republican Senator Rod Grams of Minnesota, who has pushed legislation to shut down the Department of Energy altogether. He said Peña had not shown enough leadership in finding a solution to where civilian nuclear waste should be stored. Other Republicans, however, had called Peña, the Secretary of Transportation in Clinton's first presidential term, highly qualified. The only other opposition, from Senator Frank Murkowski of Alaska and also because of the same nuclear waste issue, was dropped before the March 12 vote.

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