Germany’s Chancellor Merkel fires environment minister after his defeat in regional election

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Following his defeat to be premier of North Rhine-Westphalia on Sunday by the Social Democrats (SPD), Norbert Roettgen, once seen as a potential successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel, was fired by Merkel today from his position as her environment minister. Reuters reported that Merkel has nominated Peter Altmaier, parliamentary whip for her conservative party, to replace Roettgen.

Merkel is looking to pass her plans to take Germany off of its nuclear energy dependency and in his new position, Altmaier will be charged with putting the chancellor’s “Energiewende” program back on track.  “The energy switch is a central task of this legislative period,” Merkel said, referring to the accelerated conversion to renewable energy enforced by her about-face on nuclear power after Japan's Fukushima disaster.

Since Merkel overturned policy on nuclear last year, over six nuclear plants have been shut down, leading to worries being voiced by the business sector on the impact of their electricity bills. Adding to concern, was Merkel’s lack of plans for how to manage the conversion from nuclear to renewable energy sources. Now, the chancellor faces further apprehension as her proposed cuts in subsidies for the solar industry were suspended by the Bundersrat last week.

“The energy transition is a challenge for society as a whole, an important task, on which a lot depends for consumers, for the economy and most of all for the environment,” Altmaier said. The report by Reuters pointed out that, of note for Merkel, and her probable 2013 re-election, is the fact that many states run by the SPD disapprove of cutting solar feed-in tariffs, as do some conservative-run regions in the south and east, where the solar industry provides jobs and income.

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