There was no controversy at the hearing for physicist Steven Chu to be energy secretary, but there were indications of controversies to come over energy policy.
"If we continue as we are we run the risk of dramatic, disruptive changes to the climate in our childrens' and grandchildrens' lives," he said.
Chu said his top priorities will be to encourage energy efficiency -- the "lowest hanging fruit" -- also to encourage renewable energy and nuclear power. And the Obama administration will pursue a cap and trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
He has been quoted in the past as saying "coal is my worst nightmare" because of carbon emissions. Under questioning by senators from coal producing and dependent states Chu said he acknowledges the reality is that more than 50 percent of U.S. energy is produced by coal and that is not going to change.
He said the nation should focus on making coal clean, developing new technologies that will capture harmful emissions. Then to share those technologies with other countries such as China, India and Russia, which are also heavily dependent on coal.
"Even if we turn off coal, China and India will not," he said.
Chu said the U.S. position on climate change now is that we don't go forward unless China goes forward. But he says the U.S. should take the first step and "maybe China will follow."
Because the U.S. and China together emit more than 50 percent of the world's greenhouse gases, they must act together on climate change.
"They are beginning to realize the impact of climate change on their country," he said. "Now if they don't follow, we'll have to relook."
Chu said a gasoline tax to encourage conservation is "off the table."
"What the American family does not want is to pay an increasing fraction of their budgets on energy," he said.
He said that energy efficiency is the way to prevent that -- through weatherization of homes, more efficient cars, etc. This approach, he said, will both reduce demand and help mitigate climate change.
Under questioning from Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Chu also said he supports offshore drilling.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and others asked about his commitment to nuclear power, and he said because nuclear power is carbon neutral it must be a major part of U.S. energy policy. Chu said outstanding issues regarding nuclear waste disposal and reprocessing need to be addressed as quickly as possible.