Biography for James B. Edwards
James Burrows Edwards served as secretary of energy under President Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1982. He was a conservative who agreed with Reagan that the Department of Energy should be disbanded and its programs dispersed to other departments or agencies. He supported federal research into nuclear power and synthetic fuels but called for the removal of government price controls on oil and gasoline. Edwards had previously served as governor of South Carolina, where he implemented many of the conservative programs he later supported as secretary. He left public life in 1982 and returned to dentistry. Edwards was born on June 24, 1927 in Hawthorne, Florida. His parents were schoolteachers who eventually settled in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. Edwards later claimed that he had grown up in poverty. After graduating from high school, Edwards joined the U.S. Maritime Service in 1944 and served until 1947. He attended the College of Charleston, where he obtained a bachelor's degree in 1950. He returned to sea duty for a year, then enrolled in the School of Dentistry at the University of Louisville. He received his dental degree in 1955. He was recalled as a dental officer to the U.S. Navy and served from 1955 to 1957. He remained in the naval reserve until 1967. Having decided to become an oral surgeon, Edwards completed his dental education with an internship at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate Medical School in 1957 and 1958 and with a residency in oral surgery at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan from 1958 to 1960. Edwards returned to South Carolina and established a lucrative dental practice. In 1964, Edwards entered politics, serving as chairman of the Charleston Country Republican Committee from 1964 to 1969. He also served on the state Republican Committee. In 1971, he was an unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives. The next year, he won a seat in the South Carolina Senate and served from 1973 to 1975. In 1974, he was unopposed in the Republican primary for governor, then won an upset victory over the Democratic candidate. Edwards was the first Republican elected governor of South Carolina since Reconstruction. He became a national symbol of the growing power of the Republican Party in the South. As governor, Edwards was popular and successful. He was approachable by voters and legislators. During his term, the South Carolina legislature enacted malpractice insurance for doctors. Though off-shore drilling sites were discovered, Edwards concluded early in his administration that South Carolina's economic development was in jeopardy because of a lack of energy resources. He created the South Carolina Energy Research Institute to study alternative energy possibilities and favored reopening a nuclear reprocessing plant in Barnwell, South Carolina that President Jimmy Carter had closed as part of his nuclear non-proliferation policy. Edwards also opposed unionization of public employees, government regulations in the private sector, and such programs as the state's antipoverty program, which he believed benefited only a few. He fought against wasteful practices but pressed investigations against corruption. Edwards was unable to run immediately for another gubernatorial term. Instead, he returned to private practice but worked on the side for national Republican candidates. He was an early supporter of Ronald Reagan and worked for him in the 1980 election. When Reagan was elected president, he nominated Edwards to be secretary of energy. Edwards was sworn in on January 15, 1981. The Department of Energy had been created by President Carter in 1977 to consolidate the scattered energy programs over which the federal government had jurisdiction. Conservatives considered it a bloated and unnecessary department. Part of Reagan's campaign platform had been to reduce the size of government, and he considered the Department of Energy a likely candidate for elimination. Edwards continued to believe and call for the same things he had as governor. He was pro-nuclear power, which alienated many environmentalists. The Energy Department spent increasing amounts of money to promote nuclear energy while cutting the amount spent on conservation, solar power, and other renewable sources of energy. Edwards moved to deregulate energy industries and remove price controls imposed by the government. He was unconcerned about the size of profits that oil companies were able to amass and believed the market should be allowed to determine energy prices. During his first year as secretary, Edwards made several embarrassing mistakes, due mostly to his inexperience in Washington. Still, he continued along the path in which he believed. In September 1981, the proposal to disband the Department of Energy was revived, and a plan was submitted to President Reagan. Edwards had already cut costs by billions and had removed 2,000 employees from the government payroll. He endorsed the plan, which returned most energy programs to the Department of Commerce. Edwards explained in an interview that "there is only one thing that produces energy, and that's the private sector, which government has hamstrung. Government has interfered with the marketplace, and consumers are paying for it in the long run." Legislation to dismantle the department stalled in Congress, and Edwards announced that he had accepted an offer to become president of the Medical University of South Carolina. He resigned on November 8, 1982. He continues to teach.