Obama's naming Dr. Steven Chu as head of the Department of Energy is a very big deal. Ezra Klein and Joe Romm have good posts on the importance of this specific appointment. I'll add to their comments my observation that it's impossible not love a guy who says, "Coal is my worst nightmare." True that. Suffice it to say that there is no stronger signal to send on the priorities of the DOE than to have the Nobel Laureate scientist who runs Laurence Berkeley, a DOE National Lab, and who is a vocal supporter of the fight against climate change and of energy efficiency now running the entire Department.
It would be hard to find a more illustrious or accomplished Energy Secretary ever. That's not too surprising since it has historically been a place where you park lobbyists or energy industry types (Bill Richardson being a notable exception). But with the DOE's National Labs doing crucial research on cleantech and energy efficiency while other important large-scale DOE projects like FutureGen, a zero-emission coal-fired power plant, are currently on hiatus due to mismanagement, Chu seems like a guy who can really make a difference.
Having now wrested one cabinet position from the lobbyists who typically run it, Obama will be, I hope, reluctant to hand another over to the lobbyist class that clearly expects it. With Nick Kristof in the NYT spreading the gospel of a "Department of Food" rather than a Department of Agriculture, the momentum for a reformer there is stronger than ever. I think we can take it as another good omen then, that (via Swing State Project) Colorado's Rep. John Salazar is reportedly taking a seat on the House Appropriations Committee. He will thus withdraw from consideration for Secretary of Agriculture which, given that he's a "conventional ag man", is a good thing. It would be cruel, having been given Steven Chu, for us to have to accept a conventional pick for Agriculture chief. One more bold cabinet move from our President-elect wouldn't suck.