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Energy Department secretary Chu will leave post soon

Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize winner, was the first scientist to lead the Energy Department.

Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize winner, was the first scientist to lead the Energy Department.

NEW YORK — Energy Secretary Steven Chu will leave office soon, possibly by the end of this month, he told colleagues in an e-mail Friday morning, according to Energy Department employees.

His departure had been widely expected, although as late as Thursday afternoon he was refusing to answer questions on the subject. The open slot at the Energy Department adds to a constellation of vacancies at the top of related agencies: the Environmental Protection Agency, the Transportation Department, and the Interior Department.

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President Obama said in a statement that Chu ‘‘brought to the Energy Department a unique understanding of both the urgent challenge presented by climate change and the tremendous opportunity that clean energy represents for our economy.’’ The president said that in the four years of Chu’s tenure, ‘‘we have doubled the use of renewable energy, dramatically reduced our dependence on foreign oil, and put our country on a path to win the global race for clean energy jobs.’’ He also praised Chu for expanded support for research into ‘‘groundbreaking innovations that could transform our energy future.’’

Chu presided over a $90 billion surge in expenditures in which the Obama administration tried to use the Energy Department to accomplish twin goals: stimulating the economy, and advancing energy efficiency and clean energy production.

Chu, a physicist, is the first Cabinet secretary to come into office with a Nobel Prize (an honor he shared in 1997 for his work with supercooled atoms) and the first scientist to lead the department. His 15 predecessors as secretary included a dentist, an admiral from the nuclear navy, a former electric utility lobbyist, and a variety of political figures.

Hagel still has backing of White House for Defense job

WASHINGTON — The White House on Friday dismissed criticism of Chuck Hagel’s hesitant congressional testimony and insisted that it expects the Senate to confirm him as defense secretary.

One day after Hagel was roughed up in a grueling confirmation hearing, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Hagel did a ‘‘fine job’’ and the Obama administration would be stunned if Republicans tried to block the nomination of a decorated Vietnam combat veteran and former two-term GOP senator.

‘‘The president believes Senator Hagel will make an excellent secretary of defense and that he will be confirmed and he looks forward to working with Senator Hagel in that position as we continue to advance our national security priorities,’’ Carney told reporters.

If confirmed, Hagel, 66, would be the lone Republican in President Obama’s Cabinet, the first Vietnam veteran to be defense secretary and the first enlisted man to take the post.

Hagel seemed ill-prepared under withering cross-examination from Senate Armed Services Committee Republicans in nearly eight hours of testimony.

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