In a surprise move, President Bush yesterday tapped a deputy Treasury secretary and former chemical-engineering professor with limited energy-policy expertise to be his new energy...

Share story

WASHINGTON — In a surprise move, President Bush yesterday tapped a deputy Treasury secretary and former chemical-engineering professor with limited energy-policy expertise to be his new energy secretary.

Bush asked Samuel Bodman, 66, to advance a second-term energy agenda that includes ramping up domestic-energy development to help wean the nation from foreign oil and to push the president’s energy plan, which went nowhere the past four years. One controversial proposal: Open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

Bodman could face criticism because of his previous stewardship of a Boston chemical firm, Cabot, which often ran afoul of federal and state environmental laws.

If the Senate confirms him, he would replace Spencer Abraham, a former Republican senator from Michigan, who also had little energy-policy experience.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Energy-industry lobbyists said Bodman’s appointment took them by surprise.

“In all of the conversations that I have heard, he was not there,” said Bill Kovacs, vice president for energy and environment of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Cabot used to have a liquefied-natural-gas division and supplied chemical fluids to the oil-drilling industry.

Harvard University professor Henry Lee, former Massachusetts energy chief under both Democrats and Republicans, was one of the few energy experts who knew Bodman, and he praised him.

“He’s supposed to be a good manager, No. 1 — he’s from MIT,” Lee said. “On the credentials side, you’ve got somebody who knows a little about the issue and can manage. That puts him ahead of a lot of his predecessors.”

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, predicted a “swift and smooth” confirmation.

Bodman earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Cornell University in 1961 and a doctorate of science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1965. He was an associate chemical-engineering professor at MIT from 1965 to 1970 and technical director of American Research and Development, a venture-capital firm, from 1964 to 1970.

He was named president and chief operating officer of Fidelity Investments in 1983. In 1987, he joined Cabot, where he was chairman and chief executive officer.

He joined the Bush administration in 2001 as deputy commerce secretary. He took over as deputy treasury secretary in February.

During Bodman’s tenure at Cabot, the government twice fined the company — for $100,000 and $75,000, respectively — for failing to report hazardous spills and not complying with federal cleanup orders.

Domenici’s comment was reported by The Associated Press.