Gov. Ed Rendell’s avid promotion of alternative energy projects in Pennsylvania is fueling speculation that he’s angling to be secretary of energy if a Democrat wins the White House in 2008.
The focus on a federal Cabinet post stems in large part from Rendell’s widely reported statement during the 2006 race for governor that it would be his last election and because the only offices he could move up to – in the U.S. Senate – are held by incumbents unlikely to leave. Democrat Bob Casey was elected last year and Republican Arlen Specter has said he’ll run again in 2010.
Rendell was elected in November to a second four-year term.
Heading the federal Department of Energy “is what he wants,” said state Rep. Thomas Caltagirone, a Reading Democrat and longtime Rendell supporter. “He’s angling to go to energy.”
The federal agency has a $24 billion budget and 115,000 employees.
In a signed editorial in January, Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial Board member Cynthia Henry wrote that although “Secretary of Energy Ed Rendell” would have seemed “far-fetched four years ago,” it no longer appeared remote after watching the governor become “a clean energy crusader.”
Rendell spokesman Chuck Ardo said the governor “is active on the alternative energy front because it makes sense economically, environmentally and as a matter of national security.”
“His initiative has nothing to do with positioning himself for any possible future position in a federal cabinet,” Ardo said. “He intends to serve his entire term and has no plans beyond that.”
“I don’t believe that,” Caltagirone said. If a Democrat is elected president and offers Rendell the energy post, he’ll take it, said Caltagirone, a supporter of the governor since Rendell was Philadelphia’s mayor.
Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of Virginia, believes Rendell will be a key player for the Democratic Party in 2008.
“If Rendell wants a Cabinet position or an ambassadorship, I think he would have a good shot at it,” Sabato said.
Don’t be surprised if Rendell’s name is mentioned as a potential vice presidential candidate, but that remains a longshot scenario, analysts say.
Rendell moves nonstop like the Energizer Bunny, preaching the benefits of wind and solar power, coal gasification and biofuels – while handing out millions in state tax dollars to attract such industries to Pennsylvania.
Helping to direct and implement this policy is Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty. Both lobbied heavily – and successfully – for a 2004 law requiring 18 percent of all energy created in Pennsylvania by 2020 to come from clean, efficient sources.
With an $84 million investment, Rendell and McGinty enticed Spanish wind company Gamesa Corp. to locate its headquarters in Bucks County and build two plants in the state.
The American Wind Energy Association in Washington, D.C., said the state’s windmill farms in 2006 had production capabilities of 179 megawatts. The U.S. Energy Information Administration ranked Pennsylvania 13th among 34 states with electricity-producing windmills.
According to the latest figures available from the Energy Information Administration, Pennsylvania’s 266 coal mines produced 67.5 million tons in 2005; the state produced almost 4 million barrels of crude oil; and the state’s 46,654 natural gas wells produced more than 168 billion cubic feet of gas, about 11 percent of the nation’s natural gas production.
Rendell’s office issued 27 news releases in 2006 touting alternative energy grants, projects and policies. In 2005, he made an appearance at the National Press Club in Washington, where he said Pennsylvania’s energy policy “provides a template for the nation.”
Analysts say Rendell’s political options are limited. He said during the campaign that he was committed to serving the four years of his second term as governor, which would put him in Washington in 2011 at the earliest.
Rendell “would be a natural” as federal energy secretary under a Democratic president, said Larry Ceisler, a Philadelphia-based media consultant who does work for state House Democrats. Rendell would be a good pick – and not out of the question – for a Republican administration, Ceisler said.
Ceisler doesn’t believe Rendell will run for the U.S. Senate.
“It’s just not his thing. He likes being in charge,” Ceisler said.
“I don’t see him as a vice presidential choice. But you can’t preclude that. It just depends where Pennsylvania is in the electoral dynamic when a vice president is being selected.”
Part of the reason Rendell’s political options are limited stems from the belief that he would not be comfortable turning over the reins of state government to Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll, “because there are many people who question whether she’s qualified to succeed him as governor,” said Franklin & Marshall College professor G. Terry Madonna.
“The lieutenant governor executes the duties of office on a daily basis and is prepared to do so throughout the term,” said Sal Sirabella, Knoll’s chief of staff.
Rendell, 63, is an attorney who works as a postgame TV analyst for Comcast covering the Philadelphia Eagles, donating that salary to charity. He could easily practice law or work full time as a TV commentator.
By Brad Bumsted
State Capitol Reporter
4 April 2007
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