The ultimate sendoff for Steven Chu: The Onion pokes fun at him

Outgoing US Energy Secretary Steven Chu may be one of the most successful energy chiefs to head the agency. No, I’m not talking about his Nobel Prize for physics, which I’ve heard is harder to get than some of the other ones. Neither am I talking about how he managed to survive a congressional firestorm over the failed federal-loan recipient Solyndra. Nor his distinction as the longest-serving energy secretary in US history.

No, I am talking about Chu achieving the trifecta of celebrity comedy. Over the last four years, he scored two biggies, appearing on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and on National Public Radio’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. And earlier this week, he made headlines in the king of satirical broadside, The Onion, for sleeping with a solar panel.

“Sources have reported that following a long night of carousing at a series of D.C. watering holes, Energy Secretary Steven Chu awoke Thursday morning to find himself sleeping next to a giant solar panel he had met the previous evening,” the story understated. “According to sources, Chu’s encounter with the crystalline-silicon solar receptor was his most regrettable dalliance since 2009, when an extended fling with a 90-foot wind turbine nearly ended his marriage.”

The Onion’s photo of Chu, lying forlornly in bed next to a half-revealed solar panel, wearing a white tank-top and his signature round glasses, quickly made the rounds among Washington energy reporters. (And while factually inaccurate — we assume — you can make your own conclusions on the story’s metaphorical veracity.)

Chu has achieved a minor level of fame at DOE headquarters for his dry sense of humor, and he posted a link to the Onion story on his Facebook page, with a classic Washington non-denial denial of the affair.

“I just want everyone to know that my decision not to serve a second term as Energy Secretary has absolutely nothing to do with the allegations made in this week’s edition of the Onion,” Chu wrote. “While I’m not going to confirm or deny the charges specifically, I will say that clean, renewable solar power is a growing source of US jobs and is becoming more and more affordable, so it’s no surprise that lots of Americans are falling in love with solar.”

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Chu has been an unconventional energy secretary. He made it a practice to ride his $5,000 Italian-made high-end Colnago racing bicycle to DOE headquarters from his home in Chevy Chase, Maryland. (“Real bicyclists like hills,” he once said.) He climbed the seven flights of stairs to his office at DOE headquarters several times a day, abstaining from the elevator and, rumor has it, winding his security detail.

And nowhere else was he as unconventional as in his approach to policy at DOE. Reporters took turns asking Chu’s predecessor, Samuel Bodman, about oil imports and Saudi oil production when they cornered him after speeches. But in Chu’s first week in office, he tried to abdicate his role as oil-diplomat-in-chief.

“I feel I have been dumped into the deep end of the pool,” Chu said about a flurry of OPEC-related questions during one of his first sit-downs with reporters in 2009.

His focus would be on boosting the use of renewable power, such as solar and wind, and reducing dependency on oil, he said at the time.

“That is the major mission of the department and it’s what I have control over,” he said.

While he soon learned he had to discuss oil along with energy efficiency and renewable energy, Chu never lost his passion as an advocate for solutions to climate change. And even as the boom in natural gas and oil production has put the US on a path to possible energy independence at a scale unmatched by the promise of renewables, Chu still evangelizes about the importance of dealing with climate change.

And while Chu has alienated some Republicans in Congress with that passion, he has also attracted ardent supporters throughout the energy industry. At a meeting of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners last week, Chu not only got one standing ovation, but two.

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  1. R. L. Hails Sr. P. E. at February 12, 2013 2:50 pm

    If I wanted to freeze an atom with a laser, I could think of no one more qualified than Dr. Chu. If I wanted to strengthen America’s energy position, I could not have chosen a worse leader than Dr. Chu. His prime job is to make sure that our nuclear bombs work and are kept safe. His secondary job is to make sure that civilian energy is safe, available to all, cheap, and reliable. As he leaves office, we are paying the highest ever prices for gasoline, a prime fuel of our economy. It is breaking us. He has spent oceans on green technologies which are extremely costly, which have destroyed nations which adopted them. And our grid is creaky.

    A scientist, he ducked our most important scientific problem: If carbon is bad, billions must die, because they can not afford the expensive alternative energies. In truth, he must share this failure with the EPA. His decision to write off the tens of billions spent on the completed, but abandoned, Yucca Mountain repository, may be the most wasteful decision in US history. This was required by law, but he flaunts the law.

    I am glad he rides a bike, but loathes his ideology that he can force everyone, via high costs, to do the same. He came into office as a scientist, but leaves as a sleazy politician. America is worse for his long stewardship.

  2. Dann at February 12, 2013 3:44 am

    The real joke is on people who don’t understand the whole truth:

    Even though Steven Chu once said:

    “The fear of radiation shouldn’t even enter into” the discussion about nuclear energy…

    HE LEFT the U.S. for Latin America when the biggest radiation plume was to blanket the U.S. after Japan’s nuclear meltdowns!

    By going to Latin America, he bypassed the radiation.

    Here’s a radiation plume map to see the radiation blanketing the U.S. from Japan’s nuclear meltdowns:

    And highly recommend everyone read the headlines on

    to learn more.


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