President Obama this morning nominated physicist Ernest Moniz for energy secretary, to succeed outgoing secretary Steven Chu.
Moniz, an MIT physicist, fits into President Obama’s stated “all-of-the-above” energy policy, with research focusing on ”the future of nuclear power, coal, natural gas, and solar energy in a low-carbon world,” according to the White House. That’s why he already has environmentalists nervous.
“Mr. Moniz is a known cheerleader for exploiting our reserves of natural gas using a highly controversial and polluting practice known as hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”),” wrote Wenonah Hauter, executive director of anti-fracking environmentalist group Food & Water Watch. ”His appointment to the DOE could set renewable energy development back years.”
Other fracking opponents have spent the past few weeks urging Obama to pick someone more focused on renewable energy and less open to traditional energy sources.
“We urge [Obama] to leave dangerous nuclear energy and toxic fracking behind while focusing on safe, clean energy sources like wind and solar,” Sierra Club legislative director Melinda Pierce told Greenwire. Public Citizen called the pick “disappointing,” according to the Washington Post.
Environmentalists point to a 2011 study Moniz wrote for MIT Energy Initiative, which found that the environmental risks of fracking are manageable.
Understandably, the unconventional gas industry is more supportive of Obama’s pick.“Dr. Moniz understands the clear environmental benefits associated the safe development and use of clean-burning American natural gas,” a Marcellus Shale Coalition spokesman told The Washington Examiner. “It’s sad, but not unsurprising, that some very vocal minority outliers, who claim to be focused on the environment yet deny the clear air and health benefits tied to natural gas, are lodging these broadside attacks.” Still, jurisdiction over fracking rules belongs to the Interior Department, and the EPA is attempting to insert itself into the process as well. Pending most laws governing the controversial drilling practice are made at the state level, as the Post notes. Moniz is no stranger to Washington. He was appointed to Obama’s Science and Technology Advisory Council in 2009, and served as associate director of the White House office of science and technology policy and as undersecretary of energy under President Bill Clinton.