Obama to pick Nobel physicist as energy secretary

President-elect Barack Obama is expected to select Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu to be his energy secretary, the key position in a climate and energy team that was welcomed by environmental groups Thursday.

Obama has vowed to re-engage the United States in international talks to cut greenhouse-gas emissions blamed for global warming and made the pursuit of clean energy alternatives a central plank of his plans to revive the US economy, dpa reported.

Chu shared the 1997 Nobel Prize for Physics for developing methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light. He has since focused on climate change and energy for several years, saying last year that the best scientists have realized that the world is facing a "crisis situation."

Chu has been head of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California since 2004, which specializes in alternative and renewable energy, particularly the development of carbon-neutral sources of energy.

In other key appointments, Obama plans to name Carol Browner to a new White House post, coordinating policy related to energy, the environment and climate across various departments, the Washington Post reported.

"This is a team with a keen interest in addressing climate change, and the talent and skills to get the job done," Eileen Claussen, president of the Washington-based Pew Centre on Global Climate Change, said in a statement.

Browner was the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for eight years during the administration of former president Bill Clinton. She is currently at the Albright Group, an investment advisory firm that focuses on emerging markets.

Obama was also to pick Lisa Jackson, former head of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, to lead the EPA, which is likely to play a key role in limiting climate-damaging emissions in the new administration.

After a private meeting Tuesday with former vice president Al Gore, Obama said delaying action on climate change was no longer an option.

He has pledged an aggressive effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the US - including forcing dirty companies to pay for pollution permits - and re-engaging in international climate talks.

The president-elect has also made investments in clean energy a cornerstone of his economic recovery plan as he tries to pull the United States out of a year-long recession.

Environmentalists have criticized President George W Bush's administration for its failure to take the threat of climate change seriously.

Obama is expected to name the heads of the energy and interior departments next week.

On Thursday, the president-elect introduced his healthcare team, with former senator Tom Daschle as his secretary for health and human services.

Obama has already announced most of the highest-profile cabinet posts as part of a speedy presidential transition, including Tim Geithner as Treasury secretary, Hillary Clinton as secretary of state and keeping Robert Gates as secretary of defence.

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