A Utahn may be in line to join President Clinton's Cabinet as his next energy secretary.

Elizabeth A. Moler, who grew up in Ogden and is currently the No. 2 official in the Energy Department, was mentioned Monday by outgoing Energy Secretary Federico Pena as a possible replacement for him. He announced he will retire in June.He described Moler as "a very competent person," and added, "I'm sure her name will be among the names of others to be considered by the president."

Moler was almost named secretary of energy after President Clinton's re-election. In fact, presidential aides told the press the day before he finished filling his second-term Cabinet that Moler would be named to the post.

However, that evening Clinton changed his mind as he came under fire for not having any Hispanics in his planned Cabinet.

Moler was then dropped, and Pena, a Hispanic who had resigned as Clinton's first-term transportation secretary, was persuaded to stay for at least a year as the new energy secretary. He won the post even though he acknowledged he had virtually no experience in energy matters.

Meanwhile, Moler was given the consolation prize of deputy energy secretary, the second-highest post in the department.

Moler has extensive background in energy matters.

She served from 1988 until last year on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates interstate gas and power lines, hydroelectric dams and other energy facilities. She was its chairwoman from 1993 to 1997.

Before she joined FERC, she also worked on energy issues as counsel to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and also served as an aide on that committee to Sens. Henry Jackson, D-Wash., and J. Bennett Johnston, D-La.

Pena, who is also a former mayor of Denver, announced Monday that he would resign effective June 30 to spend more time with his family.

Several Hispanic organizations immediately called for Clinton to replace Pena with another Latino to ensure their concerns are voiced at the highest levels of government.

White House press secretary Mike McCurry said, "Obviously diversity will be an important criterion, as will excellence" in seeking a new energy secretary. He added that Hispanics "enjoy a high degree of representation throughout the administration."

While Pena has been the only Hispanic member of the formal Cabinet, another man with Cabinet rank - U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson - is also Latino.

Another high official who is Hispanic is Mickey Ibarra, also a native Utahn, who is the White House director of intergovernmental affairs.

Also of Utah note, Pena said as he announced his departure that the biggest challenge facing his successor is nuclear waste disposal.

Of course, Yucca Mountain in Nevada has been proposed as a short-term national facility for that, which would bring many shipments across Utah. And the Goshute tribe is seeking approval to allow an interim nuclear waste storage facility in Utah on its reservation, which state officials have been fighting.