The rest of the world may talk a good game when it comes to ending their use of carbon based energy, but the reality is a completely different story. While the European Union lectures us on global warming, Germany is busy building 27 coal-fired plants by 2020 and Italy plans to increase its reliance on coal from 14% today to 33% in just five years. In all of Europe, 40 new major coal power plants are set to be built in the next five years. The same realities are dictating behavior in the rest of the world as well. In 2006 alone, China completed enough coal power plants to match all of Britain’s capacity. India plans to boost coal production by 50% by 2012 and quadruple it by 2030. Moving to oil, Brazil, whose beautiful beaches rival or surpass anything in California or Florida, recently discovered a huge underwater oil field and is moving quickly to begin drilling. In Asia, China and Japan were able to put aside centuries of mistrust to come to an agreement on how to drill and share oil in waters in between their countries.

The world’s actions, more than their words, show they understand that economic growth requires plentiful and inexpensive energy. When the Senate questions President-elect Barack Obama’s energy secretary nominee Steven Chu today, they owe it to the American people to find out if Chu understands these realities. Questions to draw Chu out include:

Gasoline Prices: Last September Chu made the statement that “somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe,” which at the time exceeded $8.00 a gallon. in light of the fact that high gasoline prices hurt everyone, especially those with low incomes, and weaken the overall economy, will Chu speak for or against any measures that would raise the price of gasoline?

Coal-Fired Electricity: Chu has also stated that American electricity prices are “anomalously low” and that “coal is my worst nightmare,” largely due to its contribution to global warming. Coal is the one energy source America has in overwhelming abundance, and it currently provides 50 percent of America’s electricity. Without it, electric bills would be much higher. Speaking of coal power, Obama even said, “Under my plan of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.” As secretary of energy, will Chu support coal-fired electric generation in order to provide affordable electricity for the American people?

Alternative Energy: Despite decades of subsidies, alternative energies such as wind and solar power contribute only 1% of our nation’s energy needs. No matter how hard they wish it, the fact is it will take decades, not years, to transition to alternative energies. Furthermore, the role of the Department of Energy in trying to accelerate the process by picking winners and losers among emerging alternatives is one with a disappointing track record. Will Chu take a realistic approach toward alternative energy sources, with particular regard to the continued need for conventional energy supplies until such time as alternatives are ready to replace them?

EPA Regulation of Carbon Dioxide: Last July, the Department of Energy spoke out against the EPA’s Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act (CAA). As secretary of energy, will Chu continue to be a voice of economic reason and energy policy rationality on this and other problematic global warming measures?

Nuclear Energy: Chu has publicly recognized the critical role of nuclear energy in meeting our nation’s growing energy demand. He has also suggested that with nuclear fuel recycling, a permanent geologic repository at Yucca Mountain is not essential. What is Chu’s position on the scientific viability of Yucca Mountain, and does he support allowing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to complete its review of the Department of Energy’s permit application for Yucca Mountain?

This morning the Washington Post took the Senate to task for the extremely weak questioning they have given Obama’s nominees so far: “Confirmation hearings offer an opportunity for nominees to lay out, to the extent possible, their views about the policy and managerial challenges they will confront, and for lawmakers to lay down markers on issues that matter to them. This is true even — maybe even especially — when the Senate is controlled by the same party as the White House.” Considering energy’s intimate relationship with the economy, Chu’s nomination is a great opportunity for the Senate to start doing the job Americans sent them to Washington to do.

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