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Energy Secretary Pena Quits after Serving a Year in Office

By Joby Warrick
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

Just over a year after he reluctantly accepted the job, Energy Secretary Federico Peña announced Monday he will resign in June to return to the private sector.

With his 9-month old son toddling on the stage behind him, Peña said he was quitting for "personal and family reasons," effective June 30. Peña, who was transportation secretary during President Clinton's first term and a former Denver mayor, said he had no firm plans, but he ruled out seeking public office.

The timing of the announcement came as a surprise, although Peña had committed to only one year in office when he was persuaded by President Clinton to take the top job at the Energy Department. Many senior officials at the Department of Energy (DOE) and at the White House learned of his decision only a few hours hours before it was formally announced.

"There is never a perfect time for a decision like this, but I believe that after five and a half years as a member of the Clinton Cabinet, that the time is now," Peña told a hastily called news conference.

His replacement has not been named. Peña said Deputy Energy Secretary Elizabeth Moler was "right up there" atop a short list of candidates, but he added, "that will be the president's decision." Moler had been widely regarded as the leading candidate for Energy Secretary last December when Clinton, under pressure to name a Hispanic to his second-term cabinet, chose Peña instead.

Despite his brief tenure, Peña garnered high marks Monday for his steady hand at DOE at a time of dramatic transition. Although new to many of the agency's technically complex issues, Peña was a forceful proponent for the administration's policies on nuclear weapons proliferation, arms testing and stewardship of the country's nuclear arsenal. White House aides also described him as the "driving force" in crafting the administration's strategy on utility restructuring, and a critical player in its efforts to fight global warming.

Clinton, in a prepared statement, said: "It is a measure of my confidence in his abilities that I entrusted him to run not one, but two cabinet agencies."

"There are a host of major issues pendingŠ and the truth is that his departure may make it difficult, especially for electric rate deregulation, to proceed this year," said Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) chairman of the Senate energy committee.

Responding to repeated questions from reporters, Peña said his motive for leaving office was simply to "focus on my family and their future." His wife, Ellen, and son Ryan stood at his side as he spoke, and his two daughters colored with crayons on the front row.