Republicans and Democrats Tuesday praised President Clinton's choice of Utah native Elizabeth A. Moler as the new No. 2 official at the Energy Department.

But they used her confirmation hearing to blast Clinton's energy policies."Your confirmation is a certainty," said Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska. "But some of us have some tough questions about the administration's policies."

With that tone, members praised her nine years on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (including the past four as its chairwoman), and her previous work as counsel to same committee holding the hearing. Then they asked her about disliked policies.

"I don't think the president could find a person of better character and integrity to serve as deputy secretary of energy," said Sen. Wendell Ford, D-Ky., who added Moler worked with the energy committee when he came to Congress 22 years ago.

"She doesn't need any introduction. She is known by all of us," added Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M.

Ford added Moler, an Ogden native, has shown in her work running FERC that she can find "workable solutions to complex issues with competing interests" by listening to, and working with, all sides.

But leading off attacks on administration policies, Murkowski blasted proposals to sell off the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, even though U.S. dependence on foreign oil grew from 36 percent in the 1970s to 51 percent now, and is projected to reach 71 percent by 2015.

Moler said while the administration has proposed selling some of those oil reserves in coming years to balance the budget, she and the administration hope alternatives can be identified. "Everything that can be done to avoid its sale should be done," she said.

Several senators also attacked President Clinton's proposed veto of a bill to allow temporary storage of high-level nuclear waste in Nevada without proposing other solid methods to take care of that waste.

Moler vowed the administration will develop workable solutions for long and short-term storage of the waste.

Senators, including Dale Bumpers, D-Ark., criticized lack of direction from the administration on how to allow competition - instead of monopolies - for retail sale of electricity. But Moler pledged to work hard on developing plans for that.

Bumpers also complained the country doesn't put enough emphasis on energy conservation. Moler agreed it should do more but also should place emphasis in areas such as developing more efficient appliances instead of imposing draconian consumption caps that people would not support.

Moler pledged to be fair on all such matters. "I have learned to listen to people on all sides of an issue, to take their concerns into account, and then to make what I hope will be a sound, sensible decision."

While Moler is now nominated to be the No. 2 official at the Energy Department, she almost became its top leader last year.

Last December, Clinton aides had leaked word to the press that the president was about to nominate her as his energy secretary.

But Clinton changed his mind about midnight before the expected morning announcement when he realized that his second-term Cabinet included no Hispanics - and Hispanic groups were pressuring him hard to include at least one.

So, he nominated then-outgoing Transportation Secretary Federico Pena as the new energy secretary, even though he had no background in energy matters.

Moler has served since 1988 on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which regulates interstate gas and power lines, hydroelectric dams and other energy facilities, and has been its chairman since 1993.

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

Moler has a bachelor of arts degree in international relations from the American University in Washington, D.C., and has a law degree from George Washington University. She lives in McLean, Va., with her husband and two children.