WASHINGTON — Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who won a Nobel Prize in physics but came under questioning for his handling of a solar energy loan, is stepping down.
Chu offered his resignation to President Barack Obama in a letter Friday. He said he will stay on at least until the end of February and might stay until a successor is confirmed.
Chu's departure had been widely expected and follows announcements by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson and Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that they are leaving.
The White House said no decisions have been made on replacements for any of the environment and energy jobs but said Obama's priorities will remain unchanged. Potential replacements for Chu include former North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and former Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire.
Obama said in a statement Friday that Chu brought a unique understanding of both the urgent challenge presented by climate change and the tremendous opportunity that clean energy represents for our economy.
During his tenure, Chu helped move the country toward energy independence, Obama said, referring to billions of dollars in Energy Department loans to boost renewable energy such as wind and solar power.
Thanks to Steve, we also expanded support for our brightest engineers and entrepreneurs as they pursue groundbreaking innovations that could transform our energy future, Obama said.
Chu, 64, a former director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in California, had little political experience before taking the energy post in 2009.
He drew fire from congressional Republicans who criticized his handling of a $528 million federal loan to solar panel maker Solyndra, which later went bankrupt, laying off its 1,100 workers. Republicans said Chu and other Energy Department officials missed many warning signs about problems at Solyndra and compounded them by approving a restructuring of the loan even after problems were discovered.