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Energy Secretary Steven Chu testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Energy Secretary Steven Chu testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)  

Steven Chu to step down as energy secretary

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced on Friday that he would leave the Obama administration sometime after February and planned to return to academic life in California after serving four years and coming under harsh criticism from Republicans.

“Serving as Secretary of Energy during such a momentous and important time has been incredibly demanding but enormously rewarding,” Chu said in a letter. “While I will always remain dedicated to the missions of the Department, I informed the President of my decision a few days after the election that Jean and I were eager to return to California.”

“I would like to return to an academic life of teaching and research, but will still work to advance the missions that we have been working on together for the last four years,” he added.

President Obama issued a statement thanking Chu for his service and his efforts to push the administration’s agenda related to renewable energy and climate change.

“As a Nobel Prize winning scientist, Steve brought to the Energy Department a unique understanding of both the urgent challenge presented by climate change and the tremendous opportunity that clean energy represents for our economy,” Obama said. “Over the past four years, we have doubled the use of renewable energy, dramatically reduced our dependence on foreign oil, and put our country on a path to win the global race for clean energy jobs.”

Chu’s tenure was marred by the high profile failures of renewable energy companies that received support from the federal government at the expense of taxpayers which earned him criticism from congressional Republicans and conservative groups.

“Secretary Chu will long be remembered for his administration of the Solyndra loan program, record high gas prices, and his role as loyal foot soldier in the Obama administration’s war on affordable, reliable energy,” said Benjamin Cole, communications director at the American Energy Alliance. “America never needed Steven Chu at the Energy Department, and it’s not clear that we ever needed the department at all.”

Solyndra went bankrupt after receiving $535 million from the Energy Department, and after Obama said in 2010 that “the true engine of economic growth will always be companies like Solyndra.” The company filed for bankruptcy in August 2011 and laid off 1,100 workers.

Another solar company, Abound Solar, was approved for a $400 million Energy Department loan guarantee, but went bankrupt and fired 280 employees after only drawing on $70 million of the loan guarantee. A Daily Caller News Foundation investigation revealed that the company was knowingly selling underperforming solar panels, and may have misled lenders to keep itself afloat.

There were also allegations put forward that DOE loans were given out based on political considerations rather than on the merits of the companies. One recently filed lawsuit even alleges “cronyism” in the loan process.

Cause of Action filed two lawsuits against the Department of Energy on behalf of two green businesses arguing that DOE relied on political connections instead of merit-based reviews to award loan guarantees, and also that DOE leaked the confidential business information to government-backed competitors.

“This case is about fighting government cronyism,” Dan Epstein, executive director of Cause of Action. “It is a rather fluid story of when you have a start-up company, that’s a small business … looking to get a piece of the American dream. And because the government is involved in the business of picking winners and losers, they fundamentally not only shut down that dream, but destroyed the company.”

A recent report also alleged political interference in the issuing of a $8.3 billion loan guarantee for two nuclear reactors in Georgia.

“E-mails indicate periodic involvement by the Secretary of Energy on loans and loan terms, and by the White House and top levels of Department of the Treasury on other issues related to the Vogtle Project,” reads the report by Earth Track and Synapse Energy Economics.

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